Get ready for Dickens – the soap opera as award-winning writer Tony Jordan brings together some of the great novelist’s best-loved characters for a major new BBC drama.
Running across 20 half-hour episodes, and largely set in and around one cobbled street (complete with pub), Dickensian draws on Jordan’s experience as EastEnders’ lead writer (he also created Hustle and had a hand in Life on Mars), giving viewers a chance to see characters from across Dickens’ many novels interact in a whole new way.
To help you sort your Bumbles from your Buckets, here’s our guide to which characters appeared in which stories, and who’ll be bringing them to life on screen.
Stephen Rea – Inspector Bucket
The inquisitive inspector who solves the mystery at the heart of Bleak House, Bucket is as doggedly determined in his pursuit of justice as that other great Victorian detective, Sherlock Holmes.
Belfast-born Rea came to prominence with his Oscar-nominated performance in Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game. Other notable films include Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins and V for Vendetta while, on TV, he was terrifying as the sinister Gatehouse in 2011 thriller The Shadow Line.
Pauline Collins – Mrs Gamp
Sarah Gamp is a bumbling, often worse-for-wear nurse from Martin Chuzzlewit, described by the BBC as a “delightful, ruddy-faced bundle of chaos”.
Pauline Collins OBE became a household name playing Sarah Moffat in Upstairs, Downstairs and its spin-off Thomas and Sarah, in which she starred with real-life husband John Alderton. The pair then went on to appear together in the sitcom No, Honestly and, in later years, the ITV drama Forever Green. She also played a pistol-packing Queen Victoria in Doctor Who, opposite David Tennant – but perhaps her most famous role is in the film version of Shirley Valentine, for which she won a BAFTA and was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe.
Caroline Quentin – Mrs Bumble
Richard Ridings – Mr Bumble
The manipulative matron at the workhouse in which Oliver Twist is born, Mrs Corney ends 25 years of widowhood by marrying the cruel, pompous ‘beadle’ Mr Bumble – who famously refused Oliver’s request for more gruel – and giving him a taste of his own medicine.
Caroline Quentin’s most prominent roles include Dorothy, long-suffering girlfriend to Martin Clunes’ Gary in Men Behaving Badly, crime writer-turned-amateur sleuth Maddy Megellan in Jonathan Creek, DCI Janine Lewis in crime drama Blue Murder, Maggie Mee in Life Begins and the lead in sitcoms Kiss Me Kate and Life of Riley. More recently, she has turned presenter on the likes of Cornwall with Caroline Quentin.
A familiar face on British TV since the 1980s, viewers will remember Richard Ridings as Allan Ashburn in Fat Friends and Bernard Green in Common as Muck. He also played the ape Buck in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but is best known – by voice, if not name – in millions of homes as Daddy Pig in Peppa Pig.
Peter Firth – Jacob Marley
Ebenezer Scrooge’s late business partner in A Christmas Carol, Jacob Marley was doomed to wander the Earth as a chain-clanking ghost as punishment for his wicked ways.
Peter Firth made his name as the troubled teenager Alan Strang in the West End and Broadway productions of Peter Shaffer’s Equus, and was Oscar-nominated for his role in the film version alongside Richard Burton. Other films include The Hunt for Red October and Amistad, and he’s a regular face on television on both sides of the Atlantic. These days, he’s best known for his long-running role as MI5 boss Harry Pearce in BBC spy drama Spooks and its recent big screen spin-off, The Greater Good.
Tuppence Middleton – Amelia Havisham
We’re used to seeing Miss Havisham as the abandoned, cobwebbed spinster in Great Expectations, but in Dickensian we’ll meet her in younger – and possibly happier? – times.
Bristol-born Tuppence Middleton (named after her mother’s childhood nickname) first came to attention in the 2009 Brit comedy horror Tormented. Alongside TV roles in Spies of Warsaw, Black Mirror and Sense8, she’s appeared on the big screen in The Imitation Game, Jupiter Ascending and Spooks: The Greater Good.
Sophie Rundle – Honoria Barbary
Ben Starr – Captain James Hawdon
Bleak House’s Lady Dedlock was a woman of great standing in Victorian society – until the truth about a secret engagement and pregnancy in her younger days came to light. It’s this youthful folly – when she was plain old Honoria Barbary – that’s the focus of her character in Dickensian.
Sophie Rundle is one of Britain’s fastest-rising stars. As well as playing Ada Thorne in Peaky Blinders and code-breaker Lucy in The Bletchley Circle, she made one of the most memorable – and harrowing – TV exits of all time as WPC Kirsten McAskill in Happy Valley. She also had to appear virtually naked in Matt LeBlanc’s kitchen as stalker Labia in Episodes.
Her lover, Captain James Hawdon, is played by Ben Starr, whose credits include The Musketeers.
Omid Djalili – Mr Venus
Mr Venus is a taxidermist from Our Mutual Friend who agrees to join Silas Wegg in blackmailing kindly Mr Boffin, before having an attack of conscience and doing the right thing.
Born in London to Iranian parents, Omid Djalili has juggled a successful stand-up career – including two series of his own BBC One sketch show – with appearances in films like The Mummy, Gladiator, Spy Game, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Sex in the City 2. He played the lead in the David Baddiel-scripted comedy film The Infidel, about a Muslim man who discovers he is actually Jewish. A regular on comedy panel shows, he was also a contestant on celebrity diving competition Splash! and a panelist on Question Time.
Anton Lesser – Fagin
The shifty leader of a bunch of pickpockets and petty thieves, Oliver Twist’s Fagin is thought to have been based on the notorious early 19th century criminal Isaac ‘Ikey’ Solomon.
Anton Lesser is one of the great Shakespearian actors of the age, having enjoyed a long association with the RSC. He also boasts a distinguished television career, including playing Charles Dickens himself in a 2002 mini-series. His most notable recent roles are Thomas More in the BBC’s acclaimed adaptation of Wolf Hall, and Qyburn, the Maester turned necromancer in Game of Thrones.
Ned Dennehy – Ebenezer Scrooge
Perhaps Dickens’ most famous character, Ebenezer Scrooge is the black-hearted miser who learns the error of his ways in A Christmas Carol.
Irish actor Ned Dennehey played Tommy in Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur and Alderton, a prisoner in Azkaban jail in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. He’s also appeared in the BBC dramas Parade’s End, Luther, Banished and Peaky Blinders.
Tom Weston-Jones – Meriwether Compeyson
In Great Expectations, Compeyson is the fiendish cad who ditches poor Miss Havisham at the altar and gets Abel Magwitch arrested.
Staffordshire-born Tom Weston-Jones played the lead role of Kevin ‘Corky’ Corcoran – an Irish immigrant policeman in 1860s New York – in two seasons of the BBC America drama Copper. He also played Sasha Gavrik in series 10 of Spooks, and Anthony in the Channel 4 comedy-drama Not Safe For Work.
Joseph Quinn – Arthur Havisham
Arthur Havisham is the drunken, dissolute brother of Amelia, who conspires with Compeyson to acquire his sister’s fortune in Great Expectations.
Newcomer Joseph Quinn recently graduated from LAMDA. He has previously appeared in the BBC drama Postcode.
Also look out for…
Alexandra Moen (Fortitude, Lucy Saxon in Doctor Who), above, as Frances Barbary, Robert Wilfort (Skins, Gavin & Stacey) as Bob Cratchit, Brenock O’Connor (Game of Thrones’ Olly) as Peter Cratchit, Oliver Coopersmith (Grandma’s House) as John Bagnet, Christopher Fairbank (Auf Wiedersehen Pet’s Moxey) as Silas Wegg, Mark Stanley (Grenn in Game of Thrones) as Bill Sykes and many, many more.
Dickensian starts Boxing Day, 7pm on BBC One