After the uneven version of Great Expectations I was prepared not to like the adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, knowing that a contemporary writer, Gwyneth Hughes, had finished the story that Dickens left undone at the time of his death in June, 1870. I have read the book a number of times (it is, in fact, the inspiration for the second Dickens Junction Mystery), and have read several completions, notably the one done in the 1980s by Leon Garfield.
So I was pleasantly surprised at the complexity of this new version, which has an ending that, while not likely to be among the ones Dickens would have chosen himself, is more than akin to the feeling one gets from a great 19th-century Gothic tale of deception and secrecy. Dickens purists may not care so much for some of the characterizations (Julia McKenzie’s Mrs. Crisparkle doesn’t seem much like the minor character from the novel, and Tamzin Merchant’s Rosa Bud seems unlikely to be the cause of John Jasper’s uncontrollable lust), but I found it a refreshing, contemporary take on the story, and one less jarring than the just completed Great Expectations, with Gillian Anderson so unconvincing (at least to me) as Miss Havisham.
Ms. Hughes has to adjust a few things Dickens actually wrote to accommodate her new ending, which digs deeper into the past than even Dickens might have gone to bury the secrets that envelop Edwin Drood; John Jasper; and the mysterious Landless twins, Helena and Neville. Her take on the young Drood’s fate is both plausible and more rewarding than the fate that most believe Dickens had in store for him, as is her resolution to the fates of Helena and Neville Landless.
Of course, anyone new to the story should first read the novel that Dickens left just under halfway complete at the time of his death, and then consider reading the Garfield completion or going directly to this 2012 version done in conjunction with the Dickens bicentennial. Don’t be put off by the fact that Dickens didn’t finish the novel–wondering how he would have done it is at least half the fun.