What Do Actors Do When They Act?

  • John Caughie


In her article ‘Problems with Quality’, Charlotte Brunsdon identifies the ‘best of British acting’ as one of the trademarks of ‘quality television’.1 Acting is one of the particular pleasures of British television drama, and, with its roots in the British theatrical tradition, it is one of the factors which has secured for British television drama both international respect, and, with it, a healthy trading balance in the international market. In recent years, the perennial attraction of the nineteenth-century novel for television adaptation — the classic serial and Masterpiece Theatre — is not simply the visual pleasure of pretty costumes and expensive sets, but is the pleasure of watching a gallery of characters being performed by a stellar display of actors: think of John Mills’s aged and wandered Mr Chuffy in the 1994 Martin Chuzzlewit constantly haunted by memories of the same actor as young Pip in David Lean’s 1946 film adaptation of Great Expectations; or Olivier in Brideshead Revisited (1981) or Peggy Ashcroft in The Jewel in the Crown (1984). Martin Chuzzlewit, in particular, seemed to offer an opportunity to show off the best of British acting, and Dickens, in general, peopled by eccentrics, villains and grotesques seems to offer not so much a narrative as a performance.


Quality Television Television Drama Television Adaptation Classic Serial Film Adaptation 
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    C. Brunsdon, ‘Problems with Quality’, Screen, 31:1 (1990), 67–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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© John Caughie 2014

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  • John Caughie

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