Last night saw the first installment of Little Dorrit hit our TV screens, with lots of characters and storylines introduced in the special one-hour episode. The series will continue in easier-to-manage half hour slots twice weekly, as the various strands start to come together. This opening scene-setter was a bit tricky to follow in places, but the different plots were held together by the overarching theme of imprisonment, both literal and metaphorical. Remind yourself who's who by taking a look at my slideshow of characters, and then relive last night's episode with me in my recap here.
Amy "Little" Dorrit (Claire Foy) is at the centre of the story, and the opening scene shows her birth in Marshalsea debtors' prison in 1805. Fast forward 21 years and we see adult Amy heading off for a job with Mrs Clennam (Judy Parfitt). The Miss Havisham-esque wheelchair-bound woman hasn't left her dark depressing house for 12 years, and lives with her wonderfully unpleasant servant Jeremiah Flintwinch (Alun Armstrong), who's all growls and aggression, particularly towards his nervous yet kindly wife Affery (Sue Johnston). The first hint of mystery comes when Mrs Clennam tells Flintwinch Amy is coming, but he should "tell her nothing".
To read my thoughts on the rest of the opening episode just read more.
- Meanwhile, Mrs Clennam's son Arthur (Matthew Macfadyen), who has been living in China with his father since he was a child, is on his way back to London but is temporarily quarantined in Marseille because of the plagues in the East. He has been getting to know the Meagles during his journey, and the parents (Bill Paterson and Janine Duvitski) are obviously keen for him to get involved with their daughter Pet (Georgia King).
- This light-heartedness is coupled with foreboding difficulties: firstly, Arthur keeps remembering his dying father's last words to him — "put it right" — as he handed his son a pocket watch and urged him to go to his mother. Secondly, the Meagles' adopted daughter, Tattycoram (Freema Agyeman), is treated more like the hired help than a member of the family and is becoming increasingly frustrated. The mysterious, and quietly terrifying, Miss Wade (Maxine Peake) has taken a scared Tattycoram under her wing, and is pushing her to get in contact when they return to England. There is a suggestion of sexual attraction on Miss Wade's part, which Andrew Davies has discussed in his interview with The Independent. What do you think of this interpretation of the character?
- Rigaud (Andy Serkis), a murderous Frenchman, is also in France. He's in prison with Italian Cavalletto (Jason Thorpe), and we get a feel for just how sinister Rigaud is in his treatment of his fellow prisoner. He is later freed, as there isn't enough evidence against him. It isn't clear at this stage what role he will play in the characters' lives, but it's sure to be a dangerous one.
- After being given a job by Mrs Clennam (who has mysteriously said God has brought the child to her door), Amy returns to her home at the prison and we see how much the turnkey's son John Chivery (Russell Tovey) loves her. He's such an adorable character! Amy looks after her prisoner father William Dorrit (Tom Courtenay), who calls himself the "Father of the Marshalsea" and has self-deluded ideas of grandeur in his hierarchical position in the prison. Amy's brother, Edward (known as Tip, much to his father's annoyance) has also just become a prisoner as he owes a horse dealer 40 pounds.
- Arthur arrives at his mother's house, and asks her what his father's dying words mean. Mrs Clennam is incredibly cold towards her son, refusing to allow him to kiss her cheek, and tells him his father's words mean nothing. Once he's left she opens the pocket watch to find a note inside saying: "Do Not Forget". Ooh, intriguing. That night Arthur dreams about his childhood with his mother, and how unkind she was towards him and his father. He tells her he wants to give up the family business, and asks if they could have wronged anyone. Mrs Clennam is furious and demands he leaves, but while she is hostile towards him, she is almost tender towards Amy.
- Meanwhile, the Meagles arrive back at their lovely house in Twickenham and we discover a "scoundrel" called Mr Gowran had been chasing after Pet before their sojourn abroad. We see more evidence of how the family treat Tattycoram as a servant, and when she runs off in a huff who should she come across but scary Miss Wade, who's come looking for her. She calls Tattycoram by her real name, Harriet, and gives her another lingering kiss as she leaves. She seems to be plotting revenge, but we'll have to wait to find out what form it will take, against whom, and what role she wants Tattycoram to play.
- Arthur follows Amy home, as he's convinced himself that his family must have wronged her somehow and that's what his father's dying words mean. He discovers she lives in the prison when he enters with Frederick Dorrit (James Fleet), brother of William and uncle to Amy. He's a much quieter, unassuming character compared to his brother, who embarrasses Amy by lording it over Arthur and indiscreetly requesting a "testimonial" (money). Amy is further embarrassed when her flighty sister Fanny (Emma Pierson) and brother Tip turn up, and we see more evidence of how Amy has to look after all of them. Arthur is so busy trying to talk to Amy about her father's debts, and why his mother gave her the job, that he gets locked in for the night! Tip helps him out by finding him a bed.
- Mrs Clennam keeps looking at the message from the pocket watch, and summons Flintwinch by stamping her stick. She demands that he find the box of legal documents and such official papers and burns them. He scuttles off muttering to himself, and then burns the papers in front of Mrs Clennam. What she doesn't realise, however, is that her servant has kept back some documents and has given them to a shady character. Affery has heard the men talking and listens in as best she can, and looks totally shocked when she see her husband has a twin brother (also played by Alun Armstrong). Flintwinch catches her and threatens her as the episode ends on a mysterious and aggressive note.
So there are my thoughts on this intriguing, if sometimes confusing, opening episode. I'd love to know what you think, if you were one of the majority who planned to watch the show, so be sure to share your thoughts with me. I've had a sneak peek at the next episode, and it gets even better!