The Pickwick Papers (1985)

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Released 5-Oct-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1985
Running Time 354:36 (Case: 350)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Brian Lighthill

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Nigel Stock
Clive Swift
Jeremy Nicholas
Alan Parnaby
Phil Daniels
Patrick Malahide
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

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

   The Pickwick Papers was Charles Dickens'first novel. Serialised between 1836 and 1837, it is not really a novel as such but rather a series of scrapes and adventures revolving around the principal character of Samuel Pickwick.

As a keen 24 year old, Dickens jumped at the offer to provide accompanying text for a series of engravings featuring "Cockney sporting life" by noted artist Robert Seymour. With considerable skill he argued successfully that the text should be paramount with the engravings merely illustrating the story. By the second of the monthly instalments Seymour was so despondent with this turn of events and life in general that he took his own life. The publishers hired another young man, Hablot Knight Browne as illustrator. Dickens wrote the stories under the nickname Boz and Browne used the name Phiz. This writer and illustrator team not only lasted for this project but indeed Phiz was Dickens' illustrator for the next 23 years.

Whilst there is no real single story to The Pickwick Papers it is much loved by many Dickens fans for its splendid humour and detailed characterizations. Like a situation comedy, it takes a group of characters and carries them through a series of embarrassing events and sometimes dangerous adventures only to plonk them down seemingly unharmed at the end.

Samuel Pickwick, a retired businessman, is the creator of the Pickwick Club, a gathering of like people devoted to experiencing and recording human nature. After a life spent toiling away at business Pickwick decides he wants to experience life at first hand. Joining him in the Club are his friends Tupman, Winkle and Snodgrass.

There are a few recurring characters. One is the itinerant actor and opportunist Alfred Jingle who not only speaks in flowery theatrical language but manages to exploit Pickwick at every turn. The other character, introduced about a quarter of the way into the story, is Mr Pickwick's servant, Samuel Weller. Sam is not only the epitome of the faithful servant but he is himself a wise young man full of cockney wit and sayings. Apparently the introduction of Samuel Weller increased the circulation of the monthly serial enormously. When the series commenced, the publishers printed only 1000 copies of each instalment but by the end there were 40,000 copies being printed. The great writerDickens had arrived!

Although there are numerous small stories there are a few that dominate The Pickwick Papers. The first is the regular scrapes with Mr Jingle which lead to Pickwick and his friends pursuing him across the country. The second is the justly famous story of Pickwick's trial for breach of a promise of marriage to his housekeeper, Mrs Bardell. Notwithstanding that the blundering but amiable Pickwick was misunderstood to have been suggesting marriage, he is taken through the courts by the conniving lawyers, Dobson & Fogg. After receiving a monetory judgment against him he resolves not to pay it and the action shifts to Fleet prison. The depiction of the horrors of the prison is the first real evidence of Dickens' social conscience that was to guide him through his works for many years to come. Dickens had some personal experience of debtors prison as his father was jailed for a period due to an unpaid debt when Dickens was only a boy. Even within the confines of a comedy he is able to show that prison represents a microcosm of the world outside with the rich able to buy luxury and the poor to dwindle and starve. It is Pickwicks experience in prison that resolves him to improve even further on his good deeds towards his fellow man.

This BBC production dates from 1985 and is rendered in 12 episodes of 30 minutes each. It is available as part of the Dickens collection. When reviewing Oliver Twist which is also part of this collection, I felt that the division of the story into 30 minute episodes was perhaps too short. Here it is just right and confirms the book as a sparkling Victorian sitcom with love and adventure never far away.

The acting is uniformly superb from a group of seasoned, if not well known, British actors, all of whom were born to play Dickens. As Pickwick, veteran stage actor Nigel Stock performs arguably his greatest role. Well known for playing frightening, often bearded villains, Stock here gives Pickwick an underlying humanism, which makes his bumbling at once funny and endearing. Stock died the following year from a heart attack leaving this and other great roles to remember him by. Although I initially felt that experienced actor Patrick Malahide gave too much theatrics to Mr Jingle the performance grew on me right through to the touching scenes of redemption when he meets Pickwick in Fleet prison. Jeremy Nicholas puts on a nice performance as Mr Winkle and the direction of Brian Lighthill is superbly light of touch and emphasises the generally good natured humour of the piece. The adaptation by Jack Day brings the various stories into a semi-cohesive whole. Those who like their Dickens full of dark secrets and ragged children may find that The Pickwick Papers is unlikely to satisfy. However, as part of the Dickens Collection it gives a true reflection of the balance and variety of Dickens' writing.

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Transfer Quality


 The Pickwick Papers comes to DVD in a PAL 1.33:1 transfer which is consistent with its original aspect ratio.

It was shot on video and broadcast in 1985. Readers who have followed my previous reviews of other titles from the Dickens Collection will know that it is possible to chart the technological history of the BBC through these films. The earliest titles are faded and feature all the defects associated with early video.

The Pickwick Papers adopts a mid-ground. Once again the source video is in fairly good condition, given its age, and does not display any obvious damage or artefacts. The generally faded video look as well as some slight colour bleeding are the worst problems on display. This is an acceptable presentation for an unrestored series.

There are English subtitles for the Hearing Impaired which give a good account of the on-screen action.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


 The Pickwick Papers comes to DVD with an English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192 KB/s) soundtrack. This is perfectly adequate for the production. The actors all speak clearly although sometimes you have to be quick to keep up with Sam Weller and Mr Jingle, who cast their witty words around at a rapid pace!

The music is generally good and there is a memorable theme which perfectly sums up the jaunty atmosphere of the piece using a small wind ensemble.

There are no problems with audio sync.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


There are no extras.

R4 vs R1

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

    This DVD is available in Region 1 and Region 2 in its original form as well as forming parts of collections. The only additional extras I could find is : "An Audience with Charles Dickens: The Trial from Pickwick" - a 30-minute film with Simon Callow reading from the breach of promise court scene.

This would no doubt be great fun but unless it is a priority it would be best to stick with the local version.


 The Pickwick Papers is a spot-on adaptation of the Dickens serial and only seem lesser in comparison to his greatest works by the lack of a complete narrative.

The sound and video transfer of a mini series are as good as you could expect given the age of the program.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Tuesday, December 05, 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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