Tuesday, August 7, 2012

DVD MiniSeries: Mystery of Edwin Drood

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, was to be Charles Dickens final novel, only because it was unfinished at the time of his death. It was due to be published in twelve installments in 1870-71 but at the time of Dickens death, only six were completed. This was most unfortunate because like most of Dickens' novels, The Mystery of Edwin Drood had the potential to become yet another brilliant novel. The fact that it's unfinished was probably one of the reasons I never read it, but after seeing this miniseries, I will definitely find the time to correct this.

The namesake of the title, Edwin Drood, is a young orphan who is on his way to the town of Cloisterham to meet his betrothed, Rosa Bud. Rosa, also an orphan, lives at Nun's House, a boarding school for girls. Edwin and Rosa's fathers arranged their marriage many years ago but neither are too eager to marry. Edwin seems flippant about it all and is only interested in travelling to Egypt where he wants to work as an engineer.

Edwin meets Rosa at Nun's House, and as usual, they do not get along but their quarrels are good natured. He also goes to meet his uncle and guardian, John Jasper, who is choirmaster at Cloisterham Cathedral. Jasper is not the upright choirmaster he appears to be though; he is an opium addict who frequents an opium den run by Princess Puffer. Jasper regularly hallucinates about killing Edwin because as we learn, Edwin is to marry Rosa with whom Jasper is infatuated and whom he deeply desires.

Meanwhile, two young people, Neville and Helena Landless who appear to be from Egypt, arrive for their education with Reverend Septimus Crisparkle. Neville will stay with Septimus while his twin sister, Helena will board at Nun's House with Rosa. Neville and Edwin quarrel over Edwin's lighthearted treatment of his betrothal to Rosa. Neville is angry with Edwin's lack of attention and respect towards Rosa, whom he considers too good for Edwin. Septimus Crisparkle tells Neville he must learn to control his anger and get along with others, especially Edwin.

Meanwhile, Rosa tells Helena that she does not really want to marry Edwin and that she is disturbed and frightened by her music teacher, John Jasper's attentions. Helena tells Rosa that Jasper is in love with her and this further distresses Rosa. When she meets with her guardian, Mr. Hiram Grewgious, she asks him what would happen if she and Edwin did not marry. He tells her that she would remain under his guardianship for another four years, at which time she would receive her inheritance. Grewgious also meets with Edwin, giving him his father's will and also the ring his mother wore. He tells Edwin that if he is serious about Rosa, to give her the ring, but if he is not, he should return it to him.

Now aware that she does not have to marry Edwin, Rosa meets with him, and tells him she would like their love to be like that of a brother and sister. Edwin, relieved, agrees. The young couple leave the church, happy with their mutual decision. This scene is witnessed by Jasper who decides he must act.

He invites both Neville and Edwin to his lodgings for dinner. The dinner passes amicably but the two younger men do not notice that Jasper has consumed large quantities of laudanum. They leave together and venture into the stormy night and enter the crypt where Neville leaves Edwin. At this point, Jasper rushes out of his rooms, and we see him accost Edwin in the sanctuary of the cathedral where he strangles him with his black silk scarf.

Up until this point the movie follows Dickens novel much as he wrote it. The second DVD opens with Edwin having gone missing the next morning and Jasper seemingly despondent. They search the river for signs of Edwin and when nothing is found, Jasper begins to lay suspicion on Neville whom he has perfectly set up to take the fall for Edwin's mysterious absence. Neville is captured by the local townsfolk and brought before the magistrate who agrees to allow Mr. Grewgious to lodge him in his home.

Shortly after this, Jasper confronts Rosa alone in the garden at Nun's House, confessing his deep love for her and when she refuses, he threatens her, telling her he will destroy Neville Landless unless she marries him. Rosa immediately flees to Mr. Grewgious' home. Jasper becomes more and more confused about exactly what happened the night of Edwin's disappearance and seeks out help in Princess Puffer's opium den. When he eventually discovers that Rosa has sought refuge with Mr. Grewgious he goes to the house and confronts her again, only to be faced by Helena. It is at this time that he learns that Rosa broke off her engagement to Edwin. From this point on the movie creates it's own ending for the novel, providing twists in the plot that were hinted at in the first part of the movie.

The prime question is the disappearance of Edwin, whom we assume has been murdered. But there are other questions too. Is Edwin Drood Sr. really dead? And are the Landless twins who they say they are?

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is well cast. Matthew Rhys portrays John Jasper and does a wonderful job capturing the nature of a dissolute opium addict who craves the unrequited love of the virginal Rosa Bud. He is at times, dark and brooding, the complete opposite of the amiable but strict choirmaster. Edwin Drood is played by Freddie Fox whom viewers will recognize as King Louis XIII from The Three Musketeers (2011). His sister, Emilia Fox, played Georgiana Darcy in the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice, and the strong family resemblance is not difficult to miss at all. Tamzin Merchant who was cast as Georgiana Darcy in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice is a blushing, tender Rosa Bud. Innocent on the outside, Rose is determined to resist the unwanted advances of Jasper. There are a host of other characters, typical of Dicken's novels, Princess Puffer who operates the opium den and Deputy the homeless boy who loves to throw rocks and has multiple run-ins with Jasper.

The series has a gothic atmosphere that helps to deepen the mystery of Edwin's disappearance and Jasper's role in it. Viewers will enjoy the twist at the end, although some might feel it too convenient. Overall though this was a good effort that hopefully will encourage viewers to read this novel, and the many other interesting stories Dickens wrote.

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