I thought I’d do you the favor of listing some more quick Amazon Prime Video recommendations so you don’t have to waste your time wading through mediocre productions. This is assuming our tastes align, but have I gone wrong before?
I sifted through the mountain of Dickens productions to find these gems:
Dickensian– 10-Episode Series- Highly Recommended. I kept scrolling past this one, and then decided to try it. Dickensian, for me, was one of those transporting, elevating pieces of entertainment. It brings together a number of Dickens’ characters for an original story arc, a murder mystery, but so much more than that formulaic genre. It’s really about people, about human nature and what individuals will do to get what they want, at others’ expense. Some pursuits are petty, some are avaricious, and unfortunately all feel true to life. It’s also about sacrifices and the remarkable lengths that some will go to ensure that right wins in the end. And there is another truth explored: that real honesty–difficult reality brought to the light–is loving and cleansing, even to those who do not want to be reached.
Although sometimes dizzying with its carousel of plots and characters, and at times lacking subtlety in final resolutions, this is a beautifully filmed, scripted, and acted series. It is also great fun to recognize Dickens’ characters, made to live again in new stories that are nonetheless respectful of their original source material. And the men and women I don’t know–Jaggers, for instance, and Honoria–have sparked my curiosity so that I will have to look them up. Bucket of the Detective, who might be an original Dickensiancreation, is odd, clever, and warm-hearted enough to be one good reason I revisit the series every few years.
Oliver Twist-(1985) 12-Episode Series-Recommended. Because this is more than three decades old, I was skeptical about the production value. But while it does somewhat have the feel of being filmed on a stage, and costumes and sets are not always convincing, the acting and script are solid, and I found myself getting absorbed in spite of myself. I realized that this Oliver is one of my favorite Dickens TV adaptations to date.
David Copperfield (1999) 4-Episode Miniseries- Recommended. This is colorful, well-acted, and well produced, with funny and kind, evil and tragic characters. The actors are appealing, and the film sets beautiful. I would watch it again just for the wallpaper at the great aunt’s house–just splendid.
Our Mutual Friend 6-Episode Series- Recommended. Yet another Dickens adaptation, this production is a little hard to follow at the beginning, and actually more than a little creepy. Yet the story is not without hope, and the engaging, compelling actors won me over.
Movies with some real historical context that I enjoyed for their unusual settings and production values: Thousand Pieces of Gold and The War Bride. Both have their coarse, gritty details, but made me appreciate the predicaments of the characters.
Next, here are some that are okay picks if nothing else is on:
The Indian Doctor– This series, featuring an Indian couple in the 1960’s who took the doctor’s post in a small Welsh town, is a great concept, with charismatic main actors and beautiful filming. I got mostly through the third season, but have not yet returned to finish it due to over-the-top humor and obnoxious, cliched story arcs.
The Special Needs Hotel: This reality show about a hotel set up to train young people with autism, Down syndrome, and other special needs impresses the viewer with the effectiveness of the program and the kindness of the staff. There are some segments that are gems, such as one resident supported as he plans his big birthday party while practicing phone communication. But it is a reality show, so some awkward love scenes are clearly staged, to the detriment of the actors, perhaps, and for sure the discomfort of the viewers. In another big puzzler, the residents are offered alcohol at their dance parties. However, should a second season be offered, I would watch it.
Home Fires: This series about families left at home in an English village while World War II raged abroad had me electrified. I was delighted to discover a second season, to live again with characters who loved their families and struggled through physical and emotional challenges. Later, however, it felt like the stories burned less brightly, their moral core dampened by BBC writers once again. The series was then consumed in an abrupt blaze, a cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers that was never resolved due to cancellation of the show. Watch at your own risk.
Aristocrats: Six episodes cover the lives of four sisters, English nobility from the 1700’s who make disappointing choices and still have to live with themselves. The series attempts to capture the long sweep of their lives, and so makes a jarring turn at the end, when main actors are replaced by older ones in order to more convincingly show these men and women in their dotage.
BBC’s Emma (2009 miniseries, currently offered through Britbox): I thought I would love this production, featuring Romola Garai. Every time I started watching it, it seemed superfluous given all the current Emma movies out there. It does have its charming, aesthetically pleasing, engaging side, good for dark winter evenings. However, I thought Garai came across too pouty and spoiled, making her Emma not likable enough to carry the scenes with Knightley.
Here are some to not bother with, in my opinion:
The Darling Buds of May: Cute concept, beautiful setting, and engaging acting, but the series celebrates excessive drinking and nontraditional living arrangements with lots of winks and merriment.
Lorna Doone: This was just meh for me. Two young people from opposing sides–one a daughter of a violent clan of outlaws–meet and carry on a dangerous connection. I stopped watching it, so I can’t tell you much else. It didn’t offer much depth to keep me watching.
Wild at Heart: Although some reviewers loved the series, I never finished the first episode. It sounds interesting: a family in England goes to South Africa and ends up staying to run a game reserve. But I thought the story details a little shallow and more suited to younger viewers.
What’s your list? Help us out and save us time by recommending your favorites and steering us away from less worthy material.