Martin Chuzzlewit (1994)


Our rating: 4 out of 5

Rated: PG

reviewed by Rissi C.


As someone who loves Charles Dickens’ and period/costume dramas, I can’t seem to watch enough. After much research and reading of reviews, I was thrilled to find Martin Chuzzlewit. While this story is much different than some of the others I’ve seen, it was still a complex, enjoyable tale that leaves you baffled until the end.


Martin Chuzzlewit (Paul Scofield) is a wealthy man who travels with his companion and nurse Mary Graham (Pauline Turner). Since Mr. Chuzzlewit isn’t in the best of health, he has decided to get his will in order, leaving his fortune to his beloved grandson and namesake Martin (Ben Waden). After learning that Martin has fallen in love with Mary, Mr. Chuzzlewit disinherits him and forbids a match between the two. When all of old Martin’s dozens of relatives learn that his sole heir has been disinherited they decide to pull to together and attempt to get the money, the result being one of them becoming the next heir. The scheming, hypocritical Seth Pecksniff (Tom Willkinson), who is Mr. Chuzzlewit’s cousin, is the most determined relative to get his name into the will. With the help of his two daughters, Charity (Emma Chambers) and Mercy (Julia Sawalha), he devices a plan to “protect” Mr. Chuzzlewit from his evil grandson.


Seeing that his grandfather isn’t going to change his mind, Martin decides to leave for America, along with his traveling companion Mark Tapley (Steve Nicholson), telling Mary that he loves her more than ever and he’ll come back for her after he makes his fortune and established himself. Fearing his grandfather might discover that he is still communicating with Mary, he sends his letters for her in care of his devoted friend Tom Pinch (Phillip Franks).Soon after, Mark and Martin set sail for America. Also playing a crucial role in the Chuzzlewits’ search for a fortune is Jonas (Keith Allen). As Mr. Chuzzlewit’s nephew, he is the sole heir of his father's (Mr. Chuzzlewit's brother's) fortune. The greedy, obnoxious Jonas will stop at nothing to gain what he wants. What follows is a tale of intrigue that will leave you guessing until the exciting conclusion. Because of the confusing plot and many characters, I can’t see anyone under twelve being interested in this story. However, if you are thinking of introducing your children to Charles Dickens, I would strongly recommend watching this as a family. The content is fairly minimal. A man yells at his wife and then slaps her; it happens behind a closed door. The next day we see a bruise of her face. One character is murdered, but the camera only shows the murder weapon with blood all over it. There is some talk about wanting to poison someone. A man holds a woman against her will and forces her to listen to his demands before he releases her.


All the actors were well cast in their roles. Paul Scofield was marvelous. His performance as Martin Chuzzlewit leaves you guessing if he’s really just a generous man who wants to do right by his grandson or if he’s one of the villains. I enjoyed Julia Sawalha better than I did in Pride and Prejudice. I felt she gave a more mature, emotional performance as Mercy. At the beginning of the story, she’s a silly, foolish girl who thinks she’s got the world at her feet. By the end of the movie, because of unfortunate circumstances, she has learned how cruel the world and the people in it can be, and will never be the same again. One of my favorite secondary characters is Mark Tapley, a cheerful man determined to remain jolly even in the most grim of circumstances. Mark's common sense and peaceful manner saves Martin many times from doing anything in the heat of anger. There are several minor characters that are confusing and you are never quite sure if they are going to be a good person or bad, but Dickens’ ties everything together in the end. 


I found this film much different than some of the author's other stories. While it is still a worthwhile production, I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite after having seen Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend, both of which are superior adaptations. It was a little harder for me to get into Martin Chuzzlewit. While it does have a murder mystery and various twists, the first half was more of a comedy. The other minor complaint is that I didn’t think the make-up was as well done as some of the others. There are so many twists and many characters that you should be prepared to want to watch it a second or maybe even a third time through before you are able to comprehend everything that is happening. Another thing I appreciate about all of the Dickens adaptations I’ve seen is that while the story is dark and complex, the ending is always satisfying, as is the case with Martin Chuzzlewit.