“Taut” is not an adjective one usually associates with Charles Dickens. The great English writer composed novels that brim with expansive observations and leisurely turns of phrase. His vibrant, oddball characters tend to stretch and embellish his narratives, rather than merely serve them; sometimes the characters seem to have generated themselves by sheer force of personality. Dickens might be the antidote to our Twitter-infected age.

So the Masterpiece Classic dramatization of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, airing on PBS on Sunday, April 15 (check local listings), is all the more remarkable: taut, suspenseful, and a mere two hours long, this BBC coproduction showcases quirky characters and engrossing atmospherics that feel authentically Dickensian. What other author would move with such relish from an opium den to a London law office to the parlor of an improbably kindly churchman named Crisparkle? What other author would come up with a character like Durdles, a gruff, boozing stonemason who talks about himself in the third person (“Weighed down by life, is Durdles”) and boasts with gloomy smugness about his knowledge of a cathedral’s crypts?

Admittedly, contemporary author Gwyneth Hughes has also had a hand in this small-screen Drood, which makes its debut as the world is celebrating the bicentennial of Dickens’s birth. (The program aired in the UK earlier this year.) A...

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About the Author

Celia Wren is Commonweal’s media and stage critic.