Is it all over for costume drama?

It's a lavish, star-studded show, but 'Little Dorrit' is losing viewers, says Andrew Johnson

With an all-star cast of favourite British TV faces and its timely plot about debt and greed, Andrew Davies's adaptation of Little Dorrit should have proved ratings gold.

Yet audiences for the lavish adaptation of Charles Dickens's novel, one of the Victorian author's more weighty tomes, have been sliding at a rate to rival the stock exchange since the first episode was broadcast last month.

Now, halfway through the 14-part run, barely four million viewers are regularly tuning in to each episode to catch up with the changing fortunes of William Dorrit (Sir Tom Courtenay) and his daughter Amy, played by newcomer Claire Foy. The first episode gathered a healthy 6.3 million viewers, but last Wednesday's audience was only 3.8 million.

The BBC is renowned for its costume dramas, and enjoyed regular audiences of more than six million viewers for its serialisation of Dickens's Bleak House, starring Gillian Anderson, in 2005. Last year's Cranford, a dramatisation of Elizabeth Gaskell's tales set in a Cheshire town, starring Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins, attracted almost 8.5m viewers, while Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles last month pulled in 5.9 million viewers.

Critics, who have praised the production and acting in Little Dorrit, suggest the theme of debt may be putting viewers off, and that the story is more slow-moving than that of Bleak House. The novelist Beryl Bainbridge, who earlier this year questioned the BBC's appetite for costume drama, said yesterday that she couldn't get to grips with the latest series. "The scenes are good but I can't believe in it," she said. "When I see Sue Johnston, who is very good, I remember her from Brookside. It's just not real enough... That world has vanished."

Philip Reevell, a TV commentator for Broadcast magazine, said: "Broadcasting in 30-minute instalments worked for Bleak House, [but] if the story doesn't carry it then it has the potential to be quite damaging."

A BBC spokeswoman said the corporation was "very pleased" with how the series is doing: "Audiences have two opportunities to watch Little Dorrit – weekly episodes on Wednesday and Thursday, and the Sunday omnibus." She said that the combined audience for these broadcasts is averaging over seven million viewers, "as we expect for a drama of this type".

Little Dorrit

Based on: Charles Dickens's 1857 novel about debt, greed and bureaucracy

Stars: Tom Courtenay, Claire Foy, left, and Amanda Redman

Broadcast: Current

Critics said: "Brilliant, obviously"; "Accomplished rather than inspired"; "A witheringly appropriate choice for today"; "Not... as impressive or involving as 'Tess' or 'Bleak House'."

Ratings high: 6.3m

Sex factor: (4) Once again Andrew Davies sees something in the novel that even Dickens missed, and inserts a lesbian tryst between the enigmatic Miss Wade and angry protégée Tattycoram

Bleak House

Based on: Charles Dickens's 1853 satire and thriller about a never-ending legal case

Starred: Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, Denis Lawson and Burn Gorman (above)

Broadcast: October 2005

Critics said: 10 Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations. Lauded for innovative 30-minute episode format

Ratings high: 7.32m

Sex factor: (1) Screenwriter Andrew Davies decided Dickens didn't understand the sinister side of the relationship between John Jarndyce and his ward, Esther

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Based on: Thomas Hardy's classic 1891 tragedy of unrequited love and misguided ambition

Starred: Gemma Arterton, above, (most recently 'Quantum of Solace' Bond girl) and Eddie Redmayne

Broadcast: September 2008

Critics said: As grimly languorous and glum as Hardy was

Ratings high: 5.96m

Sex factor: (3) A tale of rape and lust; not much in the way of light relief

North and South

Based on: Elizabeth Gaskell's 1855 social novel, billed as a passionate love story between middle-class Margaret Hale and northern mill owner John Thornton

Starred: Daniela Denby-Ashe and Tim Pigott-Smith, above, and Richard Armitage

Broadcast: November 2004

Critics said: Largely unnoticed because the BBC gave it a low profile, but massively popular with viewers who voted it Best Drama on the BBC's annual website poll

Ratings high: 6.75m

Sex factor: (4) Thornton's brooding persona drew parallels with Jane Austen's Darcy and earned Armitage (now smouldering in BBC drama 'Spooks') a host of female fans

Cranford

Based on: Three soap opera-esque Elizabeth Gaskell novels set in a small 1840s Cheshire market town

Starred: Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins (pictured)

Broadcast: November 2007

Critics said: Nominated for four Bafta TV awards, seven Bafta craft awards and eight Emmys, it proved that Dickens hasn't cornered the market in posh TV adaptations

Ratings high: 8.43m

Sex factor: (2) With gossips, bachelors, spinsters and tragedies, it gave 'Coronation Street' a run for its money

To have your say on this or any other issue visit www.independent.co.uk/IoSblogs

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
Review: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
News
People
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

Business, Marketing and Tourism Volunteer Projects

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: As part of an ongoing effort to support local...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players