Review of Hard Times

Hard Times (1977– )
Dickens At His Best
4 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
'Hard Times' is one of Dickens' lesser known novels, but is extremely worthy for all that.

It is short and set in the north of England at a time when the industrial revolution has brought sudden wealth to the nouveu-riche of common but fortunate entrepreneurs. These people have no family precedent or history and must make a reputation for themselves. Which they often do with a contemptuous ruthlessness for those of equal birth but far less good fortune.

Aptly named Mr Bounderby is just such a man. 'The bully of humility', you can't tell him anything. He got where he is today by sheer exertion and determination. There has never been a hardship to which he was never a stranger. He's rich, a humbug, and a consummate liar.

Stephen Blackpool is his alter-ego. Working-class like him, but going nowhere. He's an employee who falls foul of his alcoholic wife, his nascent trade-union, and eventually Bounderby himself. 'It aw' a muddle', is his summation of life.

Thomas Gradgrind is very much of Bounderby's way of thinking. They are friends insofar as two people devoid of any human sympathy can be. He's a man of facts. FACTS - and nothing else.

It's a simpler and more severe indictment of social-climbing than his much more popular Great Expectations. Comical individuals are few and far between. Heroes are non-existent.

Patrick Allen and Timothy West have the leads to perfection. At the same time, every other role is played to a tee by a sprinkling of worthy character actors.

This drama is wonderfully realised with an excellent mix of studio and location shooting. The original script is a perfect adaptation. All of the relevant social and personal issues raised by Dickens are included. This is as good as it gets.

Modern dramatisations of Dickens are more lavish, expensive and utterly devoid of that essential magic of the Master. This 4-piece work dates from a time when realizing Dickens' ideas was just as important as creating a detailed drama.
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