Little Dorrit (TV series)

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Little Dorrit
Cover of the BBC DVD release
GenrePeriod drama
Based onLittle Dorrit
by Charles Dickens
Written byAndrew Davies
Directed byAdam Smith (6 episodes)
Dearbhla Walsh (5 episodes)
Diarmuid Lawrence (3 episodes)
StarringClaire Foy
Matthew Macfadyen
Tom Courtenay
Judy Parfitt
ComposerJohn Lunn
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes14
Executive producersRebecca Eaton
Anne Pivcevic
ProducerLisa Osborne
CinematographyLukas Strebel
Owen McPolin
Alan Almond
EditorsNick Arthurs
Philip Kloss
David Head
Running time452 minutes
Production companiesBBC
WGBH Boston
Original networkBBC One
Original release26 October –
11 December 2008 (2008-12-11)
External links

Little Dorrit is a 2008 British miniseries based on Charles Dickens's serial novel of the same title, originally published between 1855 and 1857. The screenplay is by Andrew Davies and the episodes were directed by Adam Smith, Dearbhla Walsh, and Diarmuid Lawrence.

The series was a joint production of the BBC and the American PBS member station WGBH Boston.[1] It originally was broadcast by BBC One and BBC HD, beginning on 26 October 2008 with a 60-minute opening episode, followed by 12 half-hour episodes and a 60-minute finale.[2] In the United States, it aired in five episodes as part of PBS's Masterpiece series between 29 March and 26 April 2009.[3] In Australia, episodes were combined into seven-parts on ABC1 each Sunday at 8:30pm from 27 June 2010[4] and has since been repeated on UKTV.[5]

The series won seven Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Miniseries.[6]


Since her birth in 1805, twenty-one years prior, Amy Dorrit has lived in the Marshalsea Prison for Debt, caring for her father, William, who now enjoys a position of privileged seniority as the Father of the Marshalsea. To help her family, Amy works as a seamstress for Mrs. Clennam, a cranky, cold and forbidding semi-invalid living in a crumbling home with servants, the sinister Jeremiah Flintwinch and his bumbling wife, Affery.

Mr. Clennam is ill in China with his son, Arthur. His dying wish is that his son "Put it right" with his mother. He gives Arthur a pocket watch for her; Arthur has no idea what this means. Returning to England after 15 years, he gives his mother the watch. She claims to not know either, but opens it and reads "Do not forget." Arthur is enamoured of the beautiful Minnie (Pet) Meagles, who however favours ne'er-do-well aspiring artist, Henry Gowan, to her parents' distress.

Arthur befriends Amy, but only as someone helping his mother. For Amy, affection for Arthur grows into romance. John Chivery, who guards the prison with his father, watches, dismayed. He loves Amy desperately, but fruitlessly.

Amy's brother, Tip, falls into debt and joins his father in prison. Arthur pays his debt anonymously. Amy guesses Arthur's role: Tip is ungrateful but Amy's love for Arthur grows. Arthur, observing his mother's uncharacteristically benevolent attitude towards Amy, suspects his family may be responsible for the Dorrits' misfortunes and asks rent collector and amateur detective, Mr. Pancks, to investigate.

Chivery proposes to Amy, who gently declines. This upsets both fathers, threatening to affect Dorrit's position. Arthur, unaware of Amy's love, proposes to Pet, who regretfully tells him she will marry Gowan. He meets inventor-engineer Daniel Doyce: they become partners.

An ex-convict, Rigaud, meets Flintwinch's brother, Ephraim. Ephraim has Mrs. Clennam's papers, which she ordered Jeremiah to burn, but which he gave to Ephraim. Rigaud gets Ephraim drunk, murders him, and takes the papers, learning the Clennam family secret.

Pancks discovers Dorrit is heir to a fortune. Dorrit, now wealthy, leaves the Marshalsea and insists his family forget their "shameful past" and everyone connected to it, including by snubbing and insulting Arthur. He hires stiff and pretentious Hortensia General to educate his daughters and prepare them for society. They all depart on a Grand Tour of Europe. Dorrit is upset with Amy, who cannot adapt to the new lifestyle. Amy's sister, Fanny, is courted by, and accepts marriage to, the step-son of wealthy banker, Mr. Merdle. At Pancks suggestion, Arthur invests in Merdle's bank.

Dorrit returns to England and asks Merdle for advice on "prudent investment". Merdle agrees to invest Dorrit's fortune as a family favour. Dorrit is welcomed into London's finest homes but is tormented by prison memories. He loses his sanity, and returns to Italy to see Amy, where he dies. Alone, Amy returns to London, where she is accommodated by the newly married Fanny.

Merdle kills himself, his suicide note revealing that his bank is a Ponzi scheme which ruined thousands. One is Arthur, who is forced into the Marshalsea. Chivery angrily reveals to Arthur that Amy loves him. Arthur becomes feverish and is nursed by Amy. She offers to pay his debts, but he refuses.

Rigaud returns to Mrs. Clennam and reveals what he learned from the documents: her unloving attitude drove her husband to infidelity, which resulted in a son, Arthur, whom Mrs. Clennam raised as her own, albeit without motherly feeling. When Arthur's birth mother died, his paternal grandfather bequeathed money to Amy, as Amy was born in the Marshalsea the day Arthur's birth mother died there. Rigaud demands £2,000 to keep silent, but Mrs. Clennam leaves her house for the first time in years, finds Amy, reveals the truth, and begs forgiveness. Meanwhile, her dilapidated house collapses, killing Rigaud. Returning to her demolished home, Mrs. Clennam collapses and dies.

The Dorrits learn their money had been invested with Merdle, and is lost. Now Amy is penniless, Arthur accepts her, and they declare their mutual love. Daniel Doyce returns from Russia, where he made a fortune. He shares his wealth with Arthur who marries Amy.



The series was filmed on location at Chenies Manor House, Luton Hoo, and Hellfire Caves in Buckinghamshire; Deal Castle in Kent; Hampton Court Palace in Surrey as the Marshalsea; and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Interiors were filmed in the Pinewood Studios.

Critical reception[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

In the United Kingdom the series was often compared to Davies' Bleak House three years earlier. One reviewer for The Daily Telegraph wrote that "Some of the acting has been a bit too hammy" and blamed falling viewing figures on "confusion over scheduling, starting as an hour long special and then breaking into half an hour episodes, like a Victorian East Enders";[7] another added that it "doesn't seem to have caught on in the same way as other recent costume dramas such as Cranford and Bleak House", both due to scheduling and also down since "it wasn't quite as good" as these two programmes, though also that "Most of the cast were as reliably terrific".[8] The Independent also praised the performances, especially Courtney, Macfadyen and Peake,[9] whilst another of its reviewers praised Davies' adaptation.[10] The Guardian also praised the acting and the adaptation, though with the caveat that "because it's Dickens, those top names can get away with a little bit more showing off and look-at-me acting than they would be able to in, say, Jane Austen".[11]

United States[edit]

Brian Lowry of Variety observed, "Slow going at first and rushed near the end, it's nevertheless an absorbing piece of work, reminding us that there are certain things the Brits simply do better . . . Davies could have easily shed (or at least pared down) a few of [the] subplots without seriously diminishing the story's grandeur, and after the lengthy windup, the last hour races through tying up the assorted loose ends. Even so, there's so much gaudy talent on display here that those with an appetite for it won't be able to get enough, and Little Dorrit gives them everything they could want in a big, gloriously messy package."[12]

Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe felt the series "has so many virtues – indelible performances, stirring pathos, and an emotional and psychological heft unusual for Dickens – that you can forgive its one significant flaw . . . For all its feeling, Little Dorrit does not wrap up well, which is a no-no when it comes to Dickens. Indeed, a Dickens denouement needs to be neat . . . But the loose strings that Davies leaves dangling at the end of this script are frustrating. All the carefully built mystery implodes in the final act, as the importance of a number of characters . . . and the backstory itself are left murky in ways that Dickens made clear . . . It's hard to imagine how this happened in the course of such an otherwise mindful endeavor. And yet Little Dorrit is still rewarding, for the long journey, if not for the final stop."[13]

Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times noted, "Not every character is exactly as described on paper; some don't stay around long enough to register and others who have earned our interest just disappear. And the story can be confusing at times. But all in all, this is a dynamic, addictive rendition of a complicated novel."[14]

Jonathan Storm of The Philadelphia Inquirer stated, "Andrew Davies, who made 2006's Bleak House one of the best TV shows of the year, crafts another superb script, with characters and incidents squeezing out the sides, just the thing to satisfy close observers, which anyone joining this maxi mini-series should be. Costumes, sets, and actors, a broad lot of those super-skilled, terrifically trained Brits, make for sumptuous viewing . . . You pretty much know what to expect when Masterpiece visits the 19th century. But Little Dorrit stands at the high end of a very lofty list of period-piece achievement. It's big entertainment."[15]

In her review in The New York Times, Alessandra Stanley said the series "is as rich at the margins as at the center with strange, and strangely believable, characters from almost all levels of society, rendered in quick, firm strokes,"[16] while David Wiegand of the San Francisco Chronicle called it "terrific entertainment . . . in some ways, perhaps even better than its source material."[17]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The serial won seven of its eleven nominations at the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Miniseries, Outstanding Directing for Dearbhla Walsh, and Outstanding Writing for Andrew Davies.

Award Category Recipients and nominees Result
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Miniseries Won
Outstanding Directing Dearbhla Walsh Won
Outstanding Writing Andrew Davies Won
Outstanding Supporting Actor Andy Serkis Nominated
Tom Courtenay Nominated
Outstanding Music Composition John Lunn Nominated
Outstanding Casting Rachel Freck Won
Outstanding Cinematography Lukas Strebal Won
Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or Movie James Merifield, Paul Ghirardani and Deborah Wilson tied
Outstanding Costumes Barbara Kidd & Marion Weise Won
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a Movie Karen Hartley Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Miniseries or Television Film Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Production Design Nominated
Best Costume Design Nominated
Best Makeup and Hair Design Nominated
Best Original Television Music Nominated
Best Sound Fiction/Entertainment Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Little Dorrit[10/12/2008] (2008)". BFI.
  2. ^ "Little Dorrit". 26 October 2008. p. 60 – via BBC Genome.
  3. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (28 March 2009). "Dickens and the Business Cycle: The Victorian Way of Debt (Published 2009)" – via
  4. ^ "ABC1 Programming Airdate: Little Dorrit (episode one)". ABC Television Publicity. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
  5. ^ "UKTV Programme Synopsis: Little Dorrit". UKTV Online. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
  6. ^ "Little Dorrit (Masterpiece)". Television Academy.
  7. ^ "Little Dorrit is superb even if audiences are falling". The Daily Telegraph. London. 24 November 2008.
  8. ^ Walton, James (11 December 2008). "Last night on television – Little Dorrit (BBC1)". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  9. ^ Sutcliffe, Tom (27 October 2008). "The Weekend's Television: Little Dorrit, Sun, BBC1". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 24 May 2010.
  10. ^ Eyre, Hermione (2 November 2008). "Television: Little Dorrit, BBC1". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 9 April 2009.
  11. ^ Wollaston, Sam (27 October 2008). "The weekend's TV". The Guardian. London.
  12. ^ Brian Lowry. "Little Dorrit". Variety. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  13. ^ "Dickens meets 'Lost' in PBS's 'Little Dorrit' – The Boston Globe". Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  14. ^ "Review: 'Little Dorrit' on PBS". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  15. ^ Columnist, By Jonathan Storm, Inquirer. "Jonathan Storm: 'Little Dorrit': One dandy Dickens tale". External link in |website= (help)
  16. ^ "The New York Times". Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  17. ^ David Wiegand; Chronicle Staff Writer (28 March 2009). "TV review: Smart, well-played 'Little Dorrit'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 12 February 2016.

External links[edit]