Friday, June 4, 2010

Little Dorrit (2008) ~ A Review

Little Dorrit is a miniseries based on the novel by Charles Dickens. Written by Andrew Davies and put out by the BBC, it runs 8 1/2 hours and stars Claire Foy, Matthew MacFadyen, and Tom Courtenay.


Little Dorrit follows the story of a young girl named Amy Dorrit, born in a debtor's prison to a long-serving inmate known as the "Father of the Marshalsea". While her sister Fanny works as a dancer and her brother hops in and out of jobs, Amy finds employment as a seamstress and companion to a stern, crippled woman named Mrs. Clennam.

Around that time, Mrs. Clennam's son Arthur returns from China after a 15-year absence working with his father, who is recently deceased. The older Mr. Clennam died with something troubling his mind, and Arthur is determined to find out. Upon meeting Amy, known as "Little Dorrit", Arthur suspects that perhaps his family is responsible for some of the misfortunes that have befallen the Dorrit family, and befriends Amy.  With the help of a friend, he digs down into the Dorrits' family history to find the truth, unaware of the truths surrounding his own family.

Little Dorrit features a wide array of characters: some humorous, some tragic, some endearing, and some downright evil. Murder, mystery, and romance all find their place in this engaging adaption of Dickens' classic rag-to-riches story.


I have not read the novel yet, so I cannot say much regarding how accurate the movie is to the book. I have heard that overall it follows it closely, but, as is his habit, screenwriter Andrew Davies made one or two changes of his own, which will be covered in the following section.


For all that Little Dorrit is a fantastic story with some of my absolute FAVORITE characters in fiction, it just isn't my favorite movie to watch. It is a rather "dark" movie (darker than Bleak House, I think, but not so dark as Our Mutual Friend), and there are some parts that are not so comfortable for me to watch, as a Christian.

There is some violence-- one man murders a couple people (thankfully those are never shown clearly), one man commits suicide (very graphic), and some other intense parts. One man (the murderer) is also a little overly fond of ladies, and there is one scene at the end of Episode 2 that we skip due to that. There is some nude art in the scenes in Venice. One character (Miss Wade) Andrew Davies concluded was "gay" (though Charles Dickens never implied such a thing) and, though that is not stated in the film, there are some strange things about that woman that may make some people wonder. Some of the costumes (particularly Fanny's and Mrs. Merdle's) have alarmingly low necklines.

Some of those aspects are easy to skip over if desired, but what's harder to skip is the language. Little Dorrit is probably worse on language than most of the other BBC costume dramas I've seen. You get a lot of the Lord's name in vain, the word "d--n" and several others frequently used throughout the 8 1/2 hours. I think I would enjoy the film a lot better if we could bleep out the language.


Like all of Dickens' works that I have read or watched, there are some good examples of Christian character and subtle parallels to Biblical truths throughout Little Dorrit. Amy Dorrit, in particular, shows a great deal of longsuffering, forgiveness, and patience with the people around her-- most of whom are very selfish and unkind. I blush when I think of how patient she is with such intolerable people and how impatient I am over absolute nothings. She and Arthur are both beautiful portraits of selflessness, and characters I would wish to be more like.

The story shows the dangers of becoming "ingrown", consumed with one's self and with trying to live up to society, and thereby losing sight of the blessings around one's self. In contrast, it shows the beauty of a life willing to serve others, be a blessing, and count the blessings the Lord has given it. Furthermore, it shows the difference between a life that claims to be serving God but whose life do not correspond with their words (Mrs. Clennam), and a life that simply lives out the Christlife in his/her daily experience (Amy Dorrit).

So the story itself is full of good Christian principles; it is just the screenplay that makes me not so comfortable watching it as some parts.


Like I said, I like many of the costumes, love the storyline, and ADORE the hero, Arthur Clennam (probably my favorite hero of period dramas, alongside Mr. Knightly :-) )!!! But there are enough "cons" to the movie that make it not one of my absolute favorites. I love to sit and watch the last episode, and watch the story wrap up in that thrilling way (for it has a very delightful ending ;-) ), but I do not care to sit for 8 1/2 hours and try to sift out all the cons to enjoy the pros.

Still, it is a very popular miniseries and most people like it very much. If the "cons" I mentioned don't bother you, or if you have a language "bleeper" and a remote control in working order, I am sure you will enjoy this film. It has such an intriguing story line; features some beautiful music, costumes, and cinematography; and includes some of wonderful Dickensian characters, which, combined, make for an enjoyable and award-winning miniseries.

More on Little Dorrit:


the W. family said...

I always enjoy reading your reviews! This one was very helpful. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi there
This was great! Thanks, I really enjoy Little Dorrit, if I had been writing a review on it I think it would be identical to yours! I'm a big Austen/Gaskell/Dickens fan and it is so great finding someone who has a Christian Website and likes these things too. And having the dress projects too, is so helpful! My sister is making dresses for herself, me and a friend from the Wives and Daughters time. Thanks for the big help! God bless you heaps.

Elinor Dashwood said...

Thanks for your comment! :-) I am glad you enjoyed the review. That is neat that your sister is making some Wives and Daughters-era dresses! I love that style! :-) Is she using Jennie Chancey's pattern?

Anonymous said...

Hi Elinor!
Thanks for replying so quickly:-) May I ask in what country you live? Yes, we're planning a Victorian/Regency ball and we have 6 or so months to prepare 3 dresses, 3 capes, organise the hall and all the rest! But it will be so much fun. Um, to tell the truth not sure (yet!) what patterns we're using, we're still looking around, but have some solid ideas as to which dresses we like the best. Cynthia's green ball dress is to die for! So hard to make though....but I'm sure if we pray for an amazing talent of sewing that I don't have at the moment, I'm sure we'll do it! Do you all--by any chance--homeschool? Thanks again for replying. God bless you,

Elinor Dashwood said...

I live in the United States... what about you? And yes, I am homeschooled. :-) That is, I have been from kindergarten through 12th grade, and I graduated this year. :-D
That's a big project you and your sister have ahead of you! Oh, but a Victorian/Regency ball sounds SO delightful!!
My sister, "Marianne", loves Cynthia's green ball dress too! I have no clue how to make that though...
Are you or your sister, by any chance, members on the Sense and Sensibility forum? I am sure you could find someone on there who might be able to help you with ideas on how to make Cynthia's ball gown. I think the link to it (the forum) is on my sidebar.
God bless!

Anonymous said...

Hi again Elinor!
It's a shame you don't live in the UK! Coz thats where I live. Though only very recently. I'm homeschooled too, and have been for nearly 10 years. I do the ACE cirriculum--have you heard of it? We're not members of the Sense and Sensibility forum, but I had a look on it just the same...pretty cool stuff! Thanks for the tip.
We've been looking around for lots of and well-made material that's cheap, and it's hard! Charity shops are always good but they never do enough of it. Thanks again for the help. God bless,

Elinor Dashwood said...

Please forgive me for taking a couple days to write back!
That is neat that you live in the UK! It is one of my dreams to visit there sometime. Yes, I've heard of ACE curriculum, but have never done it myself.
I'd love to hear how your sewing project goes...Best wishes on it! (If you do re-make Cynthia's green ball gown, please feel free to send in pictures when you are done with it, if you would like me to post them in my Wives and Daughters Costume Study series! :-) If you'd like my email address, just comment with your own and I won't publish the comment, but will email you with my address. :-) )
In Christ,

Leah said...


I am definitely going to have to watch it again... SOON!

Lillian said...

Thanks for the great review! I recently read the book, and they didn't change it much with the movie, thankfully! I hated what they did with Miss Wade... that was really weird.
Go Matthew MacFadyen!

Elinor Dashwood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebekah said...

A VERY good review! I agree with you about some of the scenes - we skip over three or four I think.

Arthur Clennam is one of my favorite fiction "heroes" too. :D

To the KING be all the glory!


"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

Liz&Elle said...

Miss Elinor Dashwood,
Hi!I'm Elizabeth Darcy from and I found your blog thru my friend HC at I was very impressed and I'm now a follower! I see from your profile and everything that we share some of the same interests. I'm a big period drama fan myself. I just read your Little Dorrit review. I'd heard about the movie on a commercial when I watched the first two parts of Emma, and was curious because of it's being a period drama and it's having Matthew MacFayden (I really enjoyed his portrayal of Mr.Darcy). Anyway, what this all adds up to is thanks for posting these reviews. Your review was very helpful, and I really appreciate it.
Thanks, again!
Your sister in Christ,
Elizabeth "Liz" Darcy

Tom said...

There was another version of Little Dorrit that was released in 1988 and starred Sir Alec Guiness. I've been meaning to see that one.

Alayna said...

Thanks for the review! I have watched Little Dorrit up to episode 6. I love Amy, Arthur and Maggie! I was wondering which episode has the suicide in it? Thanks!

Elinor Dashwood said...

Hi Alayna! I'm so sorry I didn't answer right away; I've been out of town and not had much access to internet.
The suicide is at the very end of Episode 13, very beginning of Episode 14.