In honor of the Dickens Bicentenary, BBC created an adaption of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Well, not only an adaption, in fact they had crime writer Gwyneth Hughes finish where Dickens left off. The BBC version comes in two parts – the first part is (mostly) based on Dickens’ own words, the second part is (mostly) based on Gwyneth Hughes’ ideas about how it should all come together in the end.
Before you read one, I must give a warning – there will be spoilers below. Spoilers regarding both the book as well as the tv series. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum but there will be some.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, part 1 (as written by Charles Dickens)
Now, I’ve just finished reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood so my impression of it is very much at the front of my mind and there are differences between my impressions of the characters and the BBC version’s impressions. For instance, I find Edwin Drood to be more of a silly young man, eager for his fun, in the tv series than in the book – also, he doesn’t go to Mr. Grewgious, instead Mr. Grewgious goes to see him after having talked with Rosa, which makes rather a huge difference in the way Rosa and Edwin each see their relationship (but which will make sense after watching episode 2). I find Rosa more resourceful from the beginning than she is in the book and maybe Helena Landless less so. And the Princess Puffer actually gets to confront John Jasper in this version before she warns Edwin.
The opium-induced dreams John Jasper keeps having where he strangles Edwin Drood, is shown from the very start in the tv movie where I don’t believe we’re giving insights into these visions that early in the book. Also, his fondling the silk scarf he wears, is also pointing to him being the guilty part.
For Neville and Edwin’s walk together on that fateful night, they don’t go down by the river as in the book, they go to the cathedral – which actually makes more sense given John Jasper’s late night walk with Durdles. And – very surprising – we get to see the murder of Edwin Drood so there’s no doubt as to who did it – one should think.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, part 2 (as written by Gwyneth Hughes)
So it’s not as much Edwin’s who’s missing in the beginning of part 2 as his body – opening up the mystery if he’s really dead or not. But the ring, the ring which is so important since Jasper John doesn’t know about it’s existence, is found by the young boy, Deputy, and then given to Durdles – hinting strongly that Edwin Drood is in fact dead.
So what we know is that John Jasper, being heavily influenced by opium and alcohol, is the one who strangled Edwin – but maybe he didn’t strangle him enough. In this, Hughes seem to follow the defense in The Case against John Jasper for the Murder of Edwin Drood where no one has any doubts that Jasper had both motive and intent to kill his nephew but where the entire defense rests on the idea that Jasper, because of his opium addiction, didn’t finish the job – even though he thought he did.
But all we have as evidence for the murder of Edwin Drood is the ring found by Deputy and Jasper’s memories – which are muddled, to say the least. This second episode has more twists and turns than I would have ever imagined and it is perfectly wonderful and is definitely one serious attempt to solve The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It shows us who Dick Datchery is, it tells us what happens to Helena and Neville Landless and who they really are, it solves the murder of Edwin Drood. Although not in the way it is expected. Or at least that I expected.
Although there are some discrepancies between the novel and the tv series, these are what you expect. This tv series has done a great job of bringing to life Dickens’ last mystery. My only real complaint is that as I understood it, the first episode should be as it is written by Dickens – and although I accept the minor changes as being necessary when bringing a book to life on the tv screen, I think the ending with it’s changed location and especially with the showing of the murder, is not what Dickens wrote and therefore, should have been left for part 2. If you’re not familiar with the book, I would not be surprised if people would wonder what all the fuss was about since clearly, Dickens has shown the murderer. That’s the only let-down I find in this otherwise excellent first episode.
Parts of episode 2 are also taken from the book, so clearly, it was impossible to sustain a clear divide between the book and what Hughes has written when translating it into this other medium which is a shame since the idea of first showing exactly what Dickens envisioned and then letting someone continue it for him – in his spirit – was an excellent one.
After having watched both episodes, I must say I’m in awe. Hughes has clearly stepped up to the task and has written a finish to this mystery that is so excellent that I was left speechless and just staring at the screen at times. It’s not what I had imagined, my solution was so much simpler, but I think this is more in the spirit of Dickens with twists and turns and long lost relatives and more.
I very much enjoyed watching this mini-series and I recommend it to everyone. BBC does excellent period dramas (my favorite is still Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth) and this is another example, not to be missed.