Little Dorrit is a remarkable achievement. For writer/director Christine Edzard the epic project [from the novel by Charles Dickens] was obviously a labor of love, and what she has accomplished on a small budget is astounding.
The project is in fact two films, each three hours long [I: Nobody’s Fault, 177 mins; II: Little Dorrit’s Story, 183 mins], with the latter being virtually a remake of the former. A large cast of uniformly excellent British actors is topped off by quite brilliant portrayals by Alec Guinness as William Dorrit, and Derek Jacobi as Arthur Clennam.
In the second part you see from a different angle the story of the family’s plight, and why they are in prison. Sarah Pickering bestows Amy Dorrit with the gentle firmness to look after her father, brother and sister, and when Jacobi appears on the scene slowly falls in love with him.
The family travels abroad and during a plush dinner in Rome to celebrate the marriage of Fanny Dorrit (Amelda Brown) and Sparkler (Simon Dormandy), Guinness finally goes mad, and delivers a speech as if he were still in the Marshalsea.
Pic then follows Pickering discovering Jacobi is in prison and her efforts to raise the money to free him.
Six hours of viewing obviously allows full characterization and depth of story – though some characters from the novel are still missing – but the style of showing virtually the same story through two people [Clennam and Amy] allows charming reinterpretations of certain scenes, and presents a fully rounded piece as never usually found in the cinema.
The pic, which is set in the 1820s, was shot entirely in a studio owned by Sands Films in the middle of Dickens territory, in Rotherhithe close to the Thames, and the painted sets give the film a rich theatrical texture while not deflecting from the story.
1988: Nominations: Best Supp. Actor (Alec Guinness), Adapted Screenplay