Standing on the snow-covered cobbles of the Dickensian set, a horse and carriage to my right and The Old Curiosity Shop to my left, I feel like I’ve hurtled back into the 19th century. And that I should really be wearing a corset rather than jeans and a jumper.
It is genuinely one of the most amazing sets I’ve ever seen, and it’s clear that BBC1 has gone all out for its 20-part drama, which sees Dickens characters living side by side.
Set designer Michael Ralph, who worked on Death in Paradise, Primeval and lots more series, has overseen the creation of a colossal set, with 27 two storey buildings and 100m of cobbled streets — and it really couldn’t feel less like 2015.
I walk into the dark, dusty Three Cripples Pub from Oliver Twist, where there’s a working beer pump and dark wooden tables and chairs for the Fagin and his gang to get merry in. The only sign of the modern world is an oil painting of scriptwriter Tony Jordan, who used to write EastEnders, on the wall.
Walking on through the snow, which is fake but is somehow making me feel very cold, I pass Scrooge & Marley’s, Mantalini’s dress shop and the rather unsettling Mr Venus’ Taxidermist. And then, down a dark, eerie alley is Fagin’s Den. I can almost smell the coins, dust and sweat, and find myself patting my pockets to check my phone hasn’t been nicked.
Back on the main street is The Old Curiosity Shop, piled ceiling to floor with amazing old lampshades, snuff boxes and ornaments. The attention to detail is impressive. Outside, a horse snorts as Inspector Bucket, played by Stephen Rea, walks down the street in top hat, coat and tails.
It’s at that moment that I decide I would happily stay in this thrilling 19th century world forever, don a corset, make friends with Miss Havisham and ride around all day in a horse-drawn carriage.
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