Opinion piece. Here’s mine.
In a January post, Unfinished Masterpieces, I wrote about screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes’s completion of Charles Dickens’s, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Sunday night the Hughes drama aired on public TV and I happened to tune in.
Never having read the fragment by Dickens, I don’t know precisely where he left off and Hughes began, but I do know that Dickens never identified the murderer. Hughes, of course, does—but I don’t think it’s the one Dickens had in mind. Or if she got the murderer right, she must have twisted the plot in the wrong direction.
Hughes herself admitted that she “felt emboldened . . . to go where the characters took me, and hope that people who love the book even if they don’t like what I’ve done with the mystery—[would] still love Dickens’s characters.”
From reading other Dickens novels, I’d say most of the characters in Drood are Dickensian for sure. John Jasper is as black hearted a villain as any Dickens created, utterly loathsome. The crypt keeper, Durdles, is stock Dickens.
If you read my N post yesterday, you perhaps will remember Alun Armstrong from New Tricks. In Drood he’s the benevolent guardian of the heroine, Rosa Bud—both of whom have parallel types in other work by Dickens.
Edwin Drood himself is curiously inconsistent. He manfully accepts Rosa’s wish to break their engagement, but immediately does something impulsive and immature. This action, which I won’t spoil by divulging, is crucial to the mystery. I can’t decide if Drood's inconsistency was his fatal flaw—or Hughes's.
The tale tangles right after the midpoint murder, and thereafter, the characters’ motivations and hence the plot grows less and less believable.
And then there’s a major loose end. I can’t tell you what it is without giving away the climax. But this surely was not Dickens’s ending. His plots are organic, causative, and neat above all.
It could be that Dickens himself couldn't undo the plot knots and thus left the tale unfinished. Hughes's version doesn't solve The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It deepens it.