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Dickensian Fashion In The BBC Dickens inspired series

January 5, 2016

There was a lot of anticipation about this year’s Dickensian BBC special – not a Dickens adaptation but a Dickens “inspired” series, where rather than following the fortunes of characters from one Dickens novel, as is traditional, we follow the fortunes of several of the characters from lots – including A Christmas Carol, Bleak House, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop, Our Mutual Friend, Martin Chuzzlewit, and The Pickwick Papers.


Altogether, and running over 20 episodes, that’s a lot of characters to follow, and it’s hard to know quite why it has to be Dickensian inspired and not a whole new Victorian set story – sure, the characters are called Nancy, Mr Scrooge, Little Nell etc, and Nancy is, as she was in Oliver Twist, a prostitute, and Scrooge is of course, very mean (a money lender in this version, no less), but the plot, created by Eastenders writer Tony Jordan, completely different from any existing Dickens book. It mainly concerns the murder of Jacob Marley, (which never happened in A Christmas Carol) with various side stories woven in as befits the writer of a soap series.

So. It’s a mish mash.

Dickensian Women’s lib

As well as that, the Dickensian BBC special startlingly Girl Power. Not only does Amelia Havisham inherit most of her father’s brewery, to the consternation of her brother, but she tells her friend, Honoria Barbary, that she has no need to take advice from a man. Honoria, meanwhile, manages (owns?) a dress shop, which, as the young, unmarried daughter of an upper middle class man seems… modern. And Nancy the sex worker tells Mr Bucket the policeman that she won’t help him in his murder investigations because girls like her are killed all the time and no-one cares, but when it comes to the murder of gentlemen, it’s a different matter.

Dickensian hats for everyone

But in Dickensian the interiors are perfect – the exactly correct shade of green is applied to the Barbary’s middle class walls, along with sparkling chandeliers and glassware, and the cheerful bustle of a Victorian working class pub is beautifully evoked.


As to the dress, we’ve had so many Dickensian adaptations that we all know the basic form – it’s hats for everyone – bonnets for the ladies, top hats for the gentlemen, baker boy hats for urchins – corsets and crinolines for the females, sober suits and white shirts for the men.


In this Dickensian BBC special, you may have noticed that both Little Nell and Nancy wore their hair loose and flowing – girls under eighteen and “loose women” both wore it this way. And when we see a brief glimpse of Martha Crachit’s wedding dress it is not white but mauve – this is perhaps surprising but correct. Some wedding dresses in the Victorian period were white, but what would a girl who only owned one or two dresses want with a difficult to clean white dress?


Much better to have one in a practical colour, that could be worn often again. I loved the posse of policemen’s uniforms, with their rows of buttons and top hats. And Victorian dandies trousers always make me laugh too – you’ll notice that Arthur Havisham’s are very tight, like skinny jeans. In fact, with his frothy shirts, and mad stare, he’s like a Victorian Russell Brand. Strangely, the mean Frances Barbary, the sister of the frothy-but-lovely Honoria, looks like she’s been studying Charlotte Bronte’s outfits to get the suitably severe daughter of a parson look in Dickensian, a BBC special

Dickensian is currently running on BBC1, and can be followed on BBC1 iplayer too.