I've watched this DVD only recently, though this TV adaptation is 16 years old . It was made by 'BBC Schools', a low cost production. And the sparse sets and Coketown streets are indeed very basic. But this is more than compensated for by the quality of the cast. this version boasts a cast most big budget films would just dream about: Alan Bates, Richard E. Grant, Harriet Walter, Bill Paterson, and the great Bob Peck, magnificent as Gradgrind .Superb actors, who drive the story along and convey the character so essential to Dickens through a glance or a gesture, in what is a very stripped down and shortened version of Dickens' classic novel.
Inevitably a lot of Dickens' complexity is lost, and the effect of its abridgement leads to a rather jerky approach, with abrupt shifts of time and scene. But overall this is a great adaptation, it is a tribute to the BBC's commitment to quality educational films.
Thomas Gradgrind is an educator and a riter on political questions. He has founded a school where his education theories are put into practice: children are taught nothing but facts, and he educates his own children, Louisa and Tom, in the same way, neglecting their imagination and their affections. He also adopts Sissy Jupe, whose father worked in a circus.
Mr Gradgrind suggests his daughter should marry Josiah Bounderby, a rich factory owner and banker of the city some thirty years older than she is. Louisa, desiring to help her brother Tom in his career, consents to the marriage, which naturally proves to be very unhappy.
Tom, who is selfish and lazy, is given a job in Bounderby's bank, and eventually steals some money from it, making everybody think Mr Blackpool, an honest factory worker, guilty of that. Tom's guilt is discovered eventually , but he runs away and hides among the circus folk, who show kindness and sympathy by sheltering him . Meanwhile, Louisa has realised she has sacrificed her life and her chances to love. She has met Mr Harthouse, she has fallen in love, she doesn't want to be Mr Bounderby's wife anylonger.
In the end Mr Gradgrind understands the damage caused by his narrow-minded and materialistic philosophy.
(If you want a more detailed plot, have a look here)
HARD TIMES, AN INDUSTRIAL NOVEL - DICKENS AND GASKELL
Dickens had visited factories in Manchester as early as 1839, and was appalled by the environment in which workers toiled. Drawing upon his own childhood experiences, Dickens resolved to "strike the heaviest blow in my power" for those who laboured in horrific conditions. That experience must have provided him inspiration while writing his HARD TIMES.
Bentham's former secretary, Edwin Karbunkle, helped design the Poor Law of 1834 (Dickens' target in OLIVER TWIST 1837-38), which deliberately made workhouse life as uncomfortable as possible. In the novel, this is conveyed in Bitzer's response to Gradgrind's appeal for compassion at the end of the story.
Dickens was appalled by what was, in his interpretation, a selfish philosophy, which was combined with materialist laissez-faire capitalism in the education of some children at the time, as well as in industrial practices. In Dickens' interpretation, the prevalence of utilitarian values in educational institutions promoted contempt between mill owners and workers, creating young adults whose imaginations had been neglected, due to an over-emphasis on facts at the expense of more imaginative pursuits. Tom and Louisa Gradgrind are sad exemplifications of Dickens' pessimistic vision of the results of Utilitarian educational methods.