Martin Chuzzlewit (1994)

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Released 5-Oct-2006

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 345:10 (Case: 337)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Pedr James
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Paul Schofield
Tom Wilkinson
John Mills
Julia Sawalha
Keith Allen
Elizabeth Spriggs
Pete Postlethwaite
Joan Sims
Maggie Steed
Ben Walden
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI Box Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Charles Dickens wrote Martin Chuzzlewit in 1843 to 1844. Like nearly all of his novels it was released to the public monthly in serial form. Despite Dickens' high expectations the episodes did not sell well. Is is believed that for this reason he introduced a long section where a main character travels to the New World of America. This gave Dickens free range to take a sling at the hucksterish American values and in so doing improved the success of the novel. It is dramatic at its core yet features the usual array of comedic characters and situations. This series, produced by the BBC, was telecast in 1994 and consists of 6 episodes of roughly 50 minutes each.

    Like many of Dickens' novels the plot is fairly complex involving an array of memorable characters.

    Martin Chuzzlewit Senior (Paul Schofield) is old and sick. He is also extremely wealthy. Doubtless in his declining years he would appreciate the comforts of a large group of relatives. Unfortunately, he is surrounded by the sort of rogues and hypocrites that are second nature to Dickens.

    Chief amongst this rabble is his brother (also played by Paul Schofield) and his nephew Jonas Chuzzlewit, played by Keith Allen. Then there is cousin Seth Pecksniff (Tom Wilkinson) a hypocritical oaf, with his two daughters Mercy Pecksniff (Julia Sawalha) and Charity Pecksniff (Emma Chambers - the offsider to Dawn French in The Vicar of Dibley). Escorting the "fine gentleman" Mr Chevy Slyme (Peter-Hugo Daly) is petty thief and opportunist Tigg Montague (Pete Postlethwaite). Finally, there is the grandson, Martin Chuzzelwit Junior (Ben Walden), a young and headstrong man.

    Chuzzelwit Senior bemoans the fact that whilst he is extremely wealthy his money has brought him no happiness whatsoever. He has taken on a young woman as his companion, Mary Graham (Pauline Turner), on the basis that she will be paid a retainer during her life but will receive nothing from his estate after his death. Therefore, he reasons, her commitment to him is based on present payment and not future expectation. However, she and young Martin have fallen in love leading to strong words between him and his grandfather and the eventual disinheritance of young Martin.

    The story progresses as a comedic drama as the various parties vie for the old man's affection. The odious Pecksniff takes every opportunity to wheedle himself into the old man's favour, even marrying his daughter off to Jonas who promptly mistreats her, both mentally and physically. Dickens liked to temper his impossibly horrible characters with at least one impossibly good soul as the kind heart of his novels. In this case it is Tom Pinch (Philip Franks), an employee of Pecksniff who, although loyal to his master, is helpful and kind to all those he meets. Finally, for light relief, Dickens introduced the character of Mrs Gamp, a disreputable old nurse maid played by Elizabeth Spriggs. Her name became synonymous in the 1800's with both the large umbrella she carries and also the coarse uncaring nurse. Similarly , Pecksniff became a popular description of any hypocritical person.

    Like most of Dickens' novels the plot is complex and constantly evolving. The fact that Dickens was writing as he went and bending the novel to public taste perhaps explains its sprawling nature. Nevertheless, it is a good source for adaptation and the BBC have done their usual quality job in bringing the novel to life. It is a novel I have not read, however, I have scanned through key scenes and it seems that adapter David Lodge has expertly dramatised those scenes and brought the action in on a much tighter reign. It is the first Dickens for director Pedr James and he handles the wicked characterisations with aplomb.

    The acting is uniformly good. Great Britain seems to contain a well of actors born to play Dickens and each is given time to shine. Special mention must be made of Tom Wilkinson in the part of Pecksniff. Whilst never engendering our sympathy he makes Pecksniff a fully understandable character. The great Paul Schofield does an expert job at playing both Chuzzlewit brothers, from the cold and arrogant Martin to the broad and coarse Anthony. I was privileged to see Schofield on the London stage performing in Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman in the year this mini-series was telecast and it remains a great theatrical memory. Sir John Mills also chimes in with a nice performance as the doddery Mr Chuffey. Ben Walden is lumped with the usual blandness that lies at the core of all Dickens' heroes. The only disappointment is that despite the grotesque playing (as it should be) of Mrs Gamp, it becomes obvious that the character was thrown in to give some light relief to the story and to sell more episodes. She doesn't actually carry the plot forward at all.

    Made in 1994, this is an excellent adaptation of one of Dickens' lesser novels. At almost 6 hours long it requires some commitment, however, the pace rarely flags and even if some of the plot turns were predictable it was wonderful to see them unfold. It is also great to see the humorous side of Dickens at work and there are some very memorable comedy scenes.

    Its themes are simple. As old Martin says "the curse of this family is the love of self". Those who truly act in the pursuit of money are brought down in the enterprise and as with almost all Dickens' novels ( a few surprises aside) the good get their just rewards and the bad their just desserts.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Martin Chuzzlewit comes to DVD in a 1.33:1 transfer which is consistent with its original aspect ratio.

    Anyone expecting the picture quality of the series to be typical of a BBC mini-series from 12 years ago will not be disappointed. Those who wish to compare it with the current High Definition Dickens of Bleak House may be in for a shock. The colours are slightly faded and the image is at times noisy. There is a general lack of sharpness. Compression issues are not a real problem despite the fact that almost 6 hours of film is put on to dual layered discs. There is some grain and minor artefacts throughout, however they are not disturbing.

    In all, the transfer is acceptable.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Martin Chuzzlewit comes to DVD with an English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192 KB/s) mix.

    This is adequate for the show. Apart from the odd cart thundering by there is not much in the way of sound which could have benefited from a surround mix. It is really a chamber piece and the dialogue is perfectly enunciated (except perhaps by those putting on the Dickensian "commoners" accent such as Mrs Gamp).

    The music is by Geoffrey Burgon who was responsible for the memorable theme and music in Brideshead Revisited. His music here is not so memorable but enjoyable nonetheless.

    Audio sync is not a problem.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     The DVD does not contain any extras.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The DVD has not been released in Region 1. It is released in Region 4 only as part of the Dickens Collection DVD set.

Summary

    Martin Chuzzlewit is a lesser Dickens novel which has nonetheless been given a respectful and entertaining production in this 1994 mini-series.

    The audio and visual transfer are consistent with a mini-series of the time where perhaps the money went into the casting and not the technicals. On DVD, and in its original ratio, it is probably better suited to the small screen.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Friday, November 03, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo DV-SP300, using Component output
DisplayNEC PlasmaSync 42" MP4 1024 x 768. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJBL Simply Cinema SCS178 5.1

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