Tuesday 21 November 2017

I'm in the mood for more Drood

the mystery of edwin drood (bbc2) ireland's forgotten voices (tv3)

IT'S OFTEN been said that if Charles Dickens were around today he wouldn't be writing novels, he'd be writing episodes of EastEnders.

The episodic nature of his books, which were delivered to his avid original readers one magazine serial instalment at a time, lend themselves naturally to soap opera.

After the first part of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, it's probable he might also have racked up a few episodes of Inspector Morse or Midsomer Murders.

Drood, famously, was both Dickens's final novel and an unfinished one.

He died of a stroke having written just six of the planned 12 chapters, leaving his loyal readers dangling and fellow writers tantalised by how he'd planned to wrap up the story. He left behind no helpful clues about the fate of the stories' characters.

Not that this has stopped any number of authors since 1870 taking a crack at completing the novel. The latest to have a go is thriller writer Gwyneth Hughes.

Edwin Drood is one Dickens book, or half-book, I haven't read, so I can't say how closely this first episode sticks to the original. But it's certainly a much darker, more violent and more stripped-down Dickens than television usually gives us.

The protagonist is John Jasper (an excellent Matthew Rhys), the outwardly kindly cathedral choirmaster in the quaint town of Cloisterham (note that suffocating name). Privately, however, Jasper is a raging drug addict who spends his evenings getting stoned out of his box at an opium den.

He secretly harbours a seething hatred of his 17-year-old nephew, Edwin Drood (Freddie Fox), and has lustful designs on Edwin's fiancee, the winsome Rosa Bud (Tamzin Merchant). It's easy to understand why.

As played by the floppy-haired Fox, Edwin is a brattish, obnoxious fop who drips with a sense of entitlement and superiority, and manages to rub most people he meets up the wrong way -- not least Neville Landless (Sacha Dhawan), who's just arrived from Ceylon with his twin sister and detests Edwin's xenophobia towards him and casual cruelty towards Rosa.

The episode begins with Jasper having an opium-fuelled fantasy about garrotting Edwin in the aisle of the cathedral and ends with him doing just that, which suggests The Mystery of Edwin Drood is not who killed him -- but how will the killer get away with it?

But as anyone who's read enough Dickens knows, he was fond of plot surprises and coincidences, so tonight's concluding part may have a few tricks up its frilly sleeve. Whatever the outcome, it's a satisfyingly sick and twisted tale.

With the government seemingly intent on stripping hard-working citizens, and especially the senior ones who have contributed most to society, of both their financial security and their dignity, the second part of Ireland's Forgotten Voices couldn't arrive at a better time.

It's a simple documentary, yet a hugely effective one: elderly people from all backgrounds and with a variety of experiences to share talk about their long lives and the current state of their existence.

The stories of people being let slip quietly and casually through the cracks were sad and painful to listen to.

Tony Bright (75), who started work in the Guinness brewery at the age of 14, spoke of sliding into alcoholism, losing his family and friends, and spending 40 years homeless, tramping from one corner of the country to another.

Loneliness was a recurring theme; it's no respecter of class or status.

Sitting in front of a bookcase that pointed to a life of learning, Dr Moira McQuaid, originally from Harold's Cross in Dublin but based in Wexford, told how she's proudly lived alone all her life.

But in old age independence can turn to isolation, and she's grateful for the company (and the fresh food) volunteers helping the aged -- who are the real heroes of our times -- bring to her.

As a society, we're doing something wrong.

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