Plot Revealed Below!
Charles Dickens' complex tale of young love, murder, and the quest for a mystery-man's identity unfolds in this adaptation by screenwriter Andrew Davies. Bleak House features some of the most famous plot twists in literary history, including a case of spontaneous human combustion and an inheritance dispute tied up for generations in the dysfunctional English courts.
Episode 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
Jarndyce has taken Esther and Ada to visit his friend, the boisterous Mr. Boythorn, in the Leicestershire countryside. Boythorn is a neighbor of Sir Leicester's and the two are engaged in a protracted legal wrangle about property lines.
Jarndyce is unhappy to overhear Esther confide to Ada her affection for Woodcourt: he is starting to have feelings for her himself. In the local church, Esther has a strange encounter with Lady Dedlock in which both feel a mysterious pull of recognition. Later, on a country walk, Jarndyce, Esther and Ada are caught in a storm and take shelter at the same place as Lady Dedlock. She asks Jarndyce for confirmation that Esther is indeed an orphan. Then, after listening to another unruly outburst, Lady Dedlock fires her maid Hortense.
Back in London, Richard is now working at Kenge and Carboys with Guppy - and is showing an unhealthy interest in the Jarndyce and Jarndyce suit. Guppy pays a visit to Snagsby's law-writing shop, where he meets Mrs. Chadband. She worked at one time for Miss Barbary, Lady Dedlock's stern sister, and tells Guppy that Esther's real name is Hawdon. He decides to investigate further by chasing the matter up with Krook, but Krook is so wily - and so drunk - that he doesn't get very far.
A policeman has also called at Snagsby's with Jo the crossing sweeper in tow. Jo has a substantial amount of money in his possession, and the policeman doesn't believe his story about the lady who gave it to him. But Snagsby takes Jo's story to Tulkinghorn, and is introduced to Inspector Bucket. They bring Jo to Tulkinghorn's office, where he is startled to see the very same lady dressed in all her finery. Jo's surprise turns to total confusion when the lady is unveiled. It's not Lady Dedlock, after all; rather Hortense wearing her clothing.
Meanwhile, at Chesney Wold, Lady Dedlock's own suspicions have been aroused, as she wonders why she felt such a pull towards Esther when they met. She quizzes Mrs. Rouncewell for information about Esther's background, but all the housekeeper can say is that nobody knows where she comes from.
Richard pays a visit to Bleak House, where he disappoints Jarndyce yet again by announcing his intention to quit the law and join the army. Jarndyce warns him that this must be his final choice, and that he needs to take the question of employment seriously since no good will ever come of his Chancery hopes. Their relationship is becoming increasingly strained.
Charley Neckett turns up as a not wholly welcome gift for Esther. Jarndyce has employed her as Esther's maid without consulting her first. But Esther cannot be cross with him for long. In town, Esther visits Caddy and Prince at the dance academy and watches as they tell Mr. Turveydrop the news of their engagement. He is most displeased until they pledge to work together to make his life more agreeable. Caddy recounts that her mother had a similarly self-absorbed response; these days her head is entirely in her African mission.
Gridley, on the run from the law following Tulkinghorn's arrest-warrant, asks his old friend Miss Flite if she can take him in. She points him in the direction of an old friend of hers, Mr. George, a noble ex-soldier who now owns a gym. Among his fencing pupils is Richard, who is learning the arts of war in preparation for joining his regiment. Unfortunately for George, he has become embroiled in Tulkinghorn's investigation.
Clamb has managed to identify Nemo as a Captain Hawdon, in debt to the moneylender Smallweed. George was a close friend of Hawdon's during their army days, and he now owes Smallweed money. Desperate for a sample of Hawdon's handwriting, Tulkinghorn dispatches Smallweed to blackmail George into providing one. George says he'll think about it.
Later, when Jarndyce, Esther and Ada visit George's gym, they discover that Gridley is in hiding there, and very sick. A doctor appears, and suddenly unmasks himself as Bucket. He intends to arrest Gridley; however he is too late. Gridley dies, still cursing the Chancery suit.
George meets Tulkinghorn to discuss his demands but, suspicious of Tulkinghorn's motives, he refuses to hand over a writing sample. Smallweed is desperate to squeeze George for all he can, but Tulkinghorn instructs him to bide his time. Back at the gym, George worries what the future may hold for himself and his assistant Phil Squod.
Guppy is still pursuing Esther; he pays another visit to an extremely drunken Krook. At the mention of the name 'Hawdon,' Krook allows him a tantalizing glimpse of Nemo's love letters, but he won't let Guppy get his hands on them.
The Dedlocks receive a visitor to Chesney Wold - Mr. Rouncewell, the housekeeper's wealthy son. His son, Watt, has fallen in love with Lady Dedlock's maid Rosa, and Rouncewell wants to take her away to be educated. While Sir Leicester takes the offer as an affront to the nobility of his household, Lady Dedlock is acutely concerned at the thought of losing the girl who has become like a daughter to her.
Later, Lady Dedlock receives a second visit, this time from Guppy. He outlines his recent discoveries - and confirms that Esther's real name is Hawdon. Lady Dedlock gives him permission to pursue the letters on her behalf. She is in deep shock at the news that her daughter lived.
Esther and Jarndyce discover that Jo is seriously ill. They take him home to Bleak House so that they can care for him, ignoring Skimpole's advice to turn him out. Can it really be chance that, in the middle of the night, Jo mysteriously disappears?
Esther, Ada, Jarndyce and Caddy search far and wide for Jo but to no avail. He has disappeared - spirited away by Tulkinghorn and Bucket (with a little help from Skimpole) to keep him quiet. The next morning, disaster strikes - Esther falls sick with smallpox. Jarndyce is beside himself with worry, and Esther is quarantined with only Charley allowed in.
Still in pursuit of the letters, Guppy heads over to Krook's house. When he gets there, he finds Miss Flite and Snagsby worrying about the peculiar smell in the air. Venturing inside, Guppy finds only Krook's skull cap floating in a sea of alcohol and human remains. The coroner's verdict is -- spontaneous combustion. Guppy is thwarted again, as Smallweed claims ownership of all Krook's property. Unbeknownst to any of them, Krook was his brother-in-law.
Esther, meanwhile, has made a remarkable recovery but is left badly scarred by the illness. She receives a visit from Miss Flite, who tells her of Woodcourt's adventures. He is a hero, having saved many lives in a shipwreck.
Disappointed, Guppy tells Lady Dedlock of his failure to find the letters. As he is about to leave, they are surprised by Tulkinghorn, who senses that Guppy is up to something. He and Smallweed decide that the time has come to call in George's debt. George has little choice, and agrees with great reluctance to hand over the writing sample.
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