Martin Chuzzlewit (1994)

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Director: Pedr James

Writer: Charles Dickens (novel), David Lodge (screenplay)

Cast: Emma Chambers, Philip Franks, Julia Sawalha, Paul Scofield, Tom Wilkinson, Pete Postlethwaite, Keith Allen

Synopsis: Greed, selfishness, and hypocrisy drive another rollicking story from Charles Dickens. Martin Chuzzlewit features two Martin Chuzzlewits: An elderly and extremely wealthy one (Scofield), who loathes the sleazy, grasping relatives that hope to profit from his death; and his grandson (Ben Walden), a well-intentioned but self-absorbed young man who has fallen in love with his grandfather's ward, Mary Graham (Pauline Turner)--and because the elder Martin disapproves, the younger Martin has been disowned.

In the gap between these two are a host of schemers, crooks, and even one or two good people--but at the center of it all is the pompous and oily Seth Pecksniff (Wilkinson), whose manipulations and lechery make him one of Dicken's most memorable villains. Whirling in his orbit are the goodhearted but ineffectual Tom Pinch (Philip Franks); the brutish Jonas Chuzzlewit (Keith Allen); Pecksniff's daughters, the "volatile hummingbird" Mercy (Julia Sawalha) and the bitter, overlooked Charity (Emma Chambers); and a host of other vivid Dickensian creations, all given juice and vitality by dozens of outstanding British actors, anchored by Scofield's magisterial presence.

Because of his characters' outsized personalities and his plots' wild reversals of fortune, Dickens is ideally suited to dramatization, and Martin Chuzzlewit takes full advantage of his strengths. Lurid events like murder and blackmail contrast with rich psychological portraits, making Martin Chuzzlewit an opulent narrative feast.

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