A Dickens of a Series

Christina Knight | March 10, 2021

The British drama Dickensian airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. starting Saturday, March 13 on THIRTEEN and streams on-demand with the THIRTEEN member benefit THIRTEEN Passport.

In the first five minutes of Dickensian, a bingo card’s worth of Charles Dickens’ characters could be marked 10 times.

The British period drama – created by the BBC – is a creative adaptation of not one Charles Dickens work, but many (see characters and their origins on the BBC site). Scrooge (A Christmas Carol) meets Fagin (Oliver Twist) meets Miss Havisham (Great Expectations) as Dickens’ most famous characters mix in the same time and place – a densely packed neighborhood of Victorian London, where the mansion dwellers, shop owners, and have-nots rub shoulders on narrow streets while dodging horse-drawn carriages.

A sepia toned image of middle-age men with Victorian style waistcoast, high collar, open jacket stands for portrait with one hand in pocket and the other resting on small table, holding gloves. He eyes look to side.

Daguerreotype portrait of Charles Dickens by Antoine Claudet, 1852.

Dickens enjoyed huge popularity in his lifetime and he was prolific: his 40-year writing career included short stories and 15 novels between The Pickwick Papers in 1836 and Edwin Drood, a monthly serial left unfinished when Dickens died in 1870. His characters are quirky, and many plots focus on the injustices of poverty and the rigid social class system in England. His fans included a young Queen Victoria and New York City residents, some of whom stormed the dock when the last installment of The Old Curiosity Shop arrived by boat.

A white, two-story building with red roof and green accents sits on a street corner. Large lettering painted on the second floor says it is the Old Curiosity Shop visited by Charles Dickens.

The Old Curiosity Shop in Holborn, London, which inspired Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop.

Dickensian opens on Christmas eve, but not all is well. Ms. Havisham and her surly brother attend the funeral of their wealthy father. The Curiosity Shop owner is tending to his deathly ill granddaughter, Nell. Money lender Mr. Marley – in A Christmas Carol a tortured ghost, but here, alive and gruff – sends a street urchin boy off with a message to Fagin, the leader of a criminal street gang. Soon Nancy, a prostitute working for Fagin, will arrive at Marley’s door, accompanied by her protective escort, Bill Sikes.

The kaleidoscope of characters from separate Dickens novels gets some grounding in a through line when Mr. Marley is murdered and Inspector Bucket (Bleak House) – one of literature’s first detectives – begins his investigation.

Actors in the series who are fairly well known in the U.S. and for their other PBS drama appearances are Stephen Rea (Flesh and Blood), playing Inspector Bucket; Sophie Rundle (Peaky Blinders and The Bletchley Circle) as Honoria Barbary; and Anton Lesser as Fagin (Wolf Hall, Game of Thrones)

We won’t give away any spoilers for this 10-episode season, so tune-in Saturdays at 8 p.m. or stream Dickensian on-demand with the THIRTEEN member benefit, THIRTEEN Passport.

Black and white illustration of men and women standing outside a colonnaded building. Some are waiting in a line.

Illustration from Harper’s weekly of crowd buying tickets for a Dickens reading at Steinway Hall, 71 E. 14th Street, NYC in 1867. Courtesy Library of Congress.

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