Bleak House (2005 TV serial)

Bleak House
Bleak House 2005 title card.jpg
GenreSerial drama
Created byCharles Dickens
Written byBased upon the novel by
Charles Dickens
Screenplay by
Andrew Davies
Directed byJustin Chadwick
Susanna White
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series1
No. of episodes15
Executive producer(s)Sally Haynes
Laura Mackie
Producer(s)Nigel Stafford-Clark
Running time30 minutes
60 minutes (episode 1)
Production company(s)BBC Television
Original networkBBC One
Picture format1080i (16:9)
Audio formatStereo
Original release27 October (2005-10-27) –
16 December 2005 (2005-12-16)
Preceded byWebsite

Bleak House is a fifteen-part BBC television drama serial adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel of the same name, which was originally published in 1852–53 as itself a print serialisation over 20 months. Produced with an all-star cast, the serial was shown on BBC One from 27 October to 16 December 2005, and drew much critical and popular praise. It has been reported that the total cost of the production was in the region of £8 million.[1]

Written by Andrew Davies, the serial was produced by Nigel Stafford-Clark and directed by Justin Chadwick and Susanna White.


The longstanding estate battle of Jarndyce v Jarndyce hangs over the heads of many conflicting heirs, confused by multiple wills. Possible beneficiary John Jarndyce of Bleak House welcomes orphaned cousins Ada Clare and Richard Carstone—also potential heirs—as his wards, and has hired Esther Summerson as a housekeeper and companion for Ada. Lady Honoria Dedlock, married to the imperious baronet Sir Leicester, is also a possible beneficiary of the estate. The Dedlocks' lawyer, Tulkinghorn, sniffs out a connection between Lady Dedlock and a newly deceased man called Nemo; as he tries to discover Nemo's true identity, Lady Dedlock secretly seeks information about the dead man herself. Meanwhile, Richard and Ada are falling in love. Richard keeps changing his mind on which career to pursue—first a physician, then a lawyer and then a soldier—but the prospect of his inheritance from the ongoing litigation begins to consume him, despite warnings from John, now his formal guardian. Esther and the young doctor Allan Woodcourt are attracted to each other, but Esther feels unworthy and Allan accepts a commission as a navy physician.

The law clerk Mr. Guppy, enamoured of Esther, hopes to win her affection by helping her discover the identity of her parents. He finds connections to both Lady Dedlock and the deceased Nemo, who has been identified as Captain James Hawdon, and is eventually alerted to the existence of letters left behind by Hawdon but kept by his drunken landlord, Krook. Realizing that Esther is her daughter whom she was told had died—fathered by Hawdon before her current marriage—Lady Dedlock confesses to Esther but swears her to secrecy. Esther is stricken by smallpox and nearly dies; she recovers but is terribly scarred. John proposes marriage to Esther, but though she accepts, he convinces her to keep it secret until she is sure it is what she wants. While amassing other enemies, Tulkinghorn deduces Lady Dedlock's secret and tries to use it to keep her in line.

Tulkinghorn is murdered, with no shortage of suspects. Lady Dedlock is implicated, but Inspector Bucket reveals that her former maid Hortense is the murderess and had tried to frame Lady Dedlock. Richard and Ada are secretly married, but he is obsessed with the lawsuit, encouraged by John's unscrupulous friend Harold Skimpole and the conniving lawyer Vholes. As a result, Richard is penniless and his health is failing. Hawdon's letters—written by a young Lady Dedlock and revealing her secret–find their way back into the hands of the moneylender Smallweed, who sells them to Sir Leicester. Guilty over her deception and not wanting to bring ruin to her husband, Lady Dedlock flees into a storm before Sir Leicester is able to tell her he does not care about her past. He has a stroke but sends Bucket after her. Bucket eventually realizes where she must be—the graveyard where Hawdon is buried—but Esther arrives to find her mother dead from exposure. A final Jarndyce will is found that closes the case in favour of Richard and Ada, but the estate has been consumed by years of legal fees. Richard collapses, overcome by tuberculosis, and soon dies. Allan professes his love for Esther, who rebuffs him out of obligation to John, and a pregnant Ada returns to Bleak House. John releases Esther from their engagement, knowing that she really loves Allan. Esther and Allan marry, with all in attendance.