Home Television Drama Hard Times

Hard Times

1 9 7 7 (UK)
4 x 50 minute episodes

In the north of England in the 1850s, Thomas Gradgrind (Patrick Allen) is tested in his belief in the importance of facts over feelings when his daughter Louisa (Jacqueline Tong) embarks on a loveless marriage to his friend Mr Bounderby (Timothy West) and his son is involved in a financial scandal.

Granada’s critically acclaimed dramatisation of Charles Dickens’ Hard Times paved the way for its hugely successful literary dramas Brideshead Revisited (1981) and The Jewel in the Crown (1984), and its Sherlock Holmes mysteries (1984-94) starring Jeremy Brett.

Originally published in weekly instalments in 1854, Hard Times tells the story of Thomas Gradgrind and his dutiful daughter Louisa against the backdrop of the industrial north in the fictional Coketown, partly modelled on Manchester, where the serial was filmed (using the old railway yard behind Granada’s studios).

This four-part adaptation is streamlined but generally very faithful to the book and presented with considerable panache. Although large chunks of Dickens’ dialogue remain intact, Granada was inevitably forced to prune the text quite considerably.

As a result, Mrs Gradgrind’s role is reduced (although her celebrated death-bed scene remains), while some characters were removed entirely (such as Bitzer and Gradgrind’s two youngest children). This sadly also extends to Bounderby’s mother, whose appearance in the novel reveals that his repeated sermons about his harsh upbringing are largely a fabrication.

The series highlights Dickens’ themes of mechanisation and depersonalisation set against the pull towards an interior landscape of feelings and imagination. This conflict is articulated on screen through a series of contrasts, beginning with the arrival of the travelling circus, which exemplifies the world of ‘fancy’ and creativity, as it passes outside Gradgrind’s school, where children are taught that only facts have merit.

This contrast is then starkly emphasised when Sissy (Michelle Dibnah) has to decide whether to stay with her extended circus family or to leave it for the sake of education. This finds a powerful echo when, in the concluding episode, Tom joins the circus to evade the authorities.

Thomas (Tom) Gradgrind
Patrick Allen
Timothy West
Alan Dobie
Barbara Ewing
Mrs Sparsit
Rosalie Crutchley
Mrs Gradgrind
Ursula Howells
Jacqueline Tong
Richard Wren
Harry Markham
Edward Fox
Sissy Jupe
Michelle Dibnah
Sean Flanagan
Tony Heath
Michael Deeks
Paul Ridley
Mrs Blackpool
Brenda Elder
Patrick Durkin