TV miniseries review: The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff (2011), directed by Ben Gosling Fuller, written by Mark Evans
The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff is an affectionate and very silly parody of the works of Charles Dickens. Jedrington Secret-Past (Robert Webb) is the owner and proprietor of the titular shop, and kind-hearted soul that he is, he even allows filthy street urchins to come in for a trade.
One day, the imposing Malifax Skulkingworm (Stephen Fry) arrives with the news that Mr Secret-Past has a big debt to pay, which he has inherited from an ancestor, and even though Mr Secret-Past was an orphan and has no knowledge of this ancestor, this matters not. As he can’t pay the debt, his wife Conceptiva (Katherine Parkinson) and two children (Finley Christie and Ambra Lily Keegan) get taken to debtors prison, while Mr Secret-Past has until Christmas Day – read: a few hours – to come up with the money, or he will never see his family again.
In this mix, we also see David Mitchell as Jollington Jollyforce, a man who inflates the jollier he gets; Celia Imrie as Miss Christmasham; Pauline McLynn as Maggoty, a prisoner who gets Conceptiva addicted to treacle; and Johnny Vegas as the Artful Codger with Jude Wright (the brainy son in Spy) as his sidekick urchin Archie.
I’m grossly under-exposed when it comes to Dickens, having only ever read Oliver Twist (when I was about 12) and A Christmas Carol. With the BBC’s bicentenary celebrations of the man this Christmas, as well as the upcoming Victorian Challenge 2012, I hope to rectify this most embarrassing deficit.
Still, I really enjoyed this. Perhaps if I knew more of Dickens I would have enjoyed it even more, but even with my sketchy knowledge I could still appreciate the stylistic silliness in how people talked, how things played out and people’s names. Some were obvious, like Miss Christmasham being a parody of Miss Haversham from Great Expectations, and Skulkingworm made me think of Scrooge. At one point, there’s a cameo by the Ghost of Christmas Past, which made me giggle.
The characters were perhaps just there for “teh lulz” as opposed to being fully fleshed out, and so on, but it doesn’t matter. Yes, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff was very silly, but it was funny, too. Maybe if I were to see this again next year, I’d be able to appreciate it in a different way. For now, I’ll just smile at the eccentricities of the characters and a good story well told – and well acted. It looks as if the cast had a lot of fun making this, and that’s always a plus.
4.5 out of 5 geese.