What the Dickens! BBC rebuilds 'Bleak House' for the 'Hollyoaks' generation

One is set in a Dickensian world of orphans and opium addicts, the other chronicles the lives of modern Cheshire teenagers with fake tans and long blonde tresses.

At first glance, Bleak House and Hollyoaks have little in common.

But Andrew Davies, right, the acclaimed television scriptwriter behind the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, starring Colin Firth, and the racy lesbian drama Tipping the Velvet, believes his new serialisation of Charles Dickens' novel has a similar appeal to the teen soap opera.

He hopes his contemporary rendering of the tale of youthful protagonists falling in love for the first time against a backdrop of dark family secrets will appeal to children as young as 11 and encourage them to read Dickens for themselves.

The BBC commissioned Davies to give the Victorian novel a "soap opera" treatment and, unlike traditional costume drama which is played out over an hour or more, Bleak House will be shown over 16 half-hour episodes in prime time on BBC 1, starting later this month.

As well as reflecting Dickens' original, published in monthly magazine instalments between March 1852 and September 1853, the BBC hopes this unconventional approach will appeal to a new audience.

The adaptation boasts a stellar cast list, including The X-Files star Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, Denis Lawson, Johnny Vegas and Alistair McGowan.

Bleak House tells the story of two teenage wards of court in the never ending lawsuit of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, Ada Clair and Richard Carstone, and of their young female companion Esther Summerson, a paragon of female virtue although she was born out of wedlock.

Davies said: "I like the idea that all the main characters are very young, the age that kids of 11 can relate to, like Hollyoaks.

"If you think of what kids are like nowadays, the characters are all very innocent, they're virgins. I was hoping we could get kids to watch this. This central trio are all trying to find their way in life. Esther is wondering who her mum and dad are, Ada and Richard are orphans and surrounding it you've got all these dark mysteries.

"It's very appealing stuff to a young audience. If watching this can get them into it, the language is not that different. It would be good to have schoolchildren reading Dickens again."

BBC head of drama Jane Tranter said: "Andrew's storytelling is always contemporary no matter what. We wanted a particular kind of contemporary storytelling and bizarrely we started talking about Spooks and Lost."

She added: "We wanted the story to unfold with some of the sense of anticipation of Dickens's original novel instead of going through the compression most adaptations go through - a sense of energy given by the cliffhanger endings and a narrative of real velocity. The result is something that feels absolutely authentic to the way that Dickens tackled Bleak House, i.e monthly instalments."

Although Davies is no stranger to period drama - his previous adaptations include George Eliot's Middlemarch, William Thackeray's Vanity Fair and Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now and he is planning a new serialisation of Austen's Sense and Sensibility - this is the first time he has attempted Dickens.

One of the main problems he encountered was bringing order to a chaotic narrative. He said: "I initially found [Dickens] him very irritating. He seems to launch into novels without knowing where he's going. It's very different to Jane Austen."

Davies's next project is a BBC adaptation of The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst's sexually explicit Booker Prize-winning novel set in the Thatcher era.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most