Around 2008, Patrick Malahide gave an interview for Classic Drama The DVD Collection, part 45. He talked about his role as Mr. Alfred Jingle in The Pickwick Papers. He has great affection for the roguishly charming Mr. Jingle, and it is easy to see why.
So, just in time for a Dickens’ Christmas, here is the lovely interview with Patrick Malahide.
Do you think yours was the best character to play?
Absolutely. It was such fun to do. It’s actually one of my favorite roles I’ve ever played, because he’s such an engaging character and a real mixture. The cliché of the lovable rogue could have been made for Mr. Jingle because he really is the most the most awful, most manipulative scoundrel, but he’s got this charm as well.
Was Jingle’s particular way of speaking tricky to grasp?
He speaks without verbs — it’s very intense and impressionistic. It’s not standard English by any means, but it sort of makes perfect sense. It’s absolutely written down that way in the novel. Dickens obviously had a very clear idea of the way he wanted Jingle to sound and we stayed very faithful. to that. It was quite a challenge, but it was more fun than anything else. You look at the page and think, “what on earth?” and then you have a go at it and say it with conviction, and it sounds great.
What did you want to bring to the character?
A sense of charm and devilishness and a sort of theatrical enjoyment — Jingle is a really theatrical character, I think. I was just so thrilled to play him because he seems an extraordinarily free spirit — he lives by his own rules — and I often get asked to play rather secretive, contained characters. It was just such a holiday for me to play this lavish, flamboyant figure that I didn’t really think about it — I just had a ball doing it.
He seems an artful character, but he’s actually quite complex.
Yes, in the prison scenes at the end it’s terribly moving when he explains to Pickwick that he’s behaved very badly and asks for his forgiveness. You think he’s conning him, but at the same time it’s sort of real and rather sweet. Dickens did a lot those deathbed confessions — that kind of thing is very much a part of Dicken’s episodic style. He’d write something that appeared to be completely inconsistent because it was written in magazine form and it seemed good to keep people on their toes and surprise them.
You’ve played a few villains in your time, haven’t you?
Yes, but none quite like Jingle. They’re usually much darker. Jingle manages to be light even while being roguish. It’s quite an interesting trick for Dickens to pull off — to make someone who is such a rogue so likable as well.
[Admin: Just have to add that I think Mr. Malahide’s new character on Luther, George Cornelius, manages that too, albeit not quite as light. He provides a spot of devilishly charming humor in an otherwise bleak and at times grotesque program.]
Who were you particularly excited to be acting with?
I adored [Pickwick actor] Nigel Stock. I was such a fan of his because I’d seen him do many different roles and be so completely convincing in everything he did. He was an actor I had long admired, long before I became an actor myself. He did everything with such completely understated conviction and that’s the sort of thing that I really admire. So I was really thrilled to be working with him and, of course, he was an absolute delight to work with. I thought he was just definitive as Mr. Pickwick — a jolly, simple, rather sweet and innocent person.
Were there any other cast members who stood out?
I loved working with Jeremy Nicholas, who played Mr. Winkle, as he was hugely talented and I remember we had some great fun on set. We used to play practical jokes on each other. I once got a fan letter which he intercepted and read out, much to my enormous embarrassment. And he used to send me cards purporting to come from adoring ladies, but they were from him. He was wicked like that. It was lovely working with Phil Daniels as well — he was just definitive as Sam Weller. It was a great cast.
What makes Pickwick ideal for TV adaptation?
It’s great for television because Dickens wrote it in episode format for a magazine publication. So it’s written in short little chapters, that were published each week or month to take you one stage further in the story. It just completely lent itself to episodic structure on television. It was very gentle, undemanding and worked extremely well in the Sunday afternoon kids’ classic slot, where you catch the whole family in. In that sense it was perfectly done.
What’s the secret to Dickens’s skill as a writer?
Great characters, I think. More than anything, the characters are so well drawn and so dramatic. Again, they lend themselves terribly well to television. Everyone, men and ladies alike, fall for Jingle. He has everyone wrapped around his little finger. Everything in his path gets swept aside.
Admin: The anecdotes about Jeremy Nicholas (who has his own blog — his 2013 post on Downton Abbey is really funny — and I’m technically a Downton fan) are hilarious. And we, RFodchuk and I, fully agree that Phil Daniels and Nigel Stock were absolutely spot-on in their roles as Pickwick and Sam Weller. Actually, everyone was spot-on. BBC’s The Pickwick Papers stands as one of the most perfectly cast productions ever, IMO. If you watch the series before reading the book, as I did, you will absolutely hear all of their voices in your head as you read their parts.