TV Review: Crime and Punishment (2002)

“Oh we’ll make him suffer, but will he make himself?”

This 2002 BBC2 adaptation of Crime and Punishment by Tony Marchant is a rather good bit of television – it may be a goodly while since I read Dostoevsky’s novel but it struck me as a respectful interpretation of the story, though not overly so, and one which makes the most of the televisual approach. Directed by Julian Jarrold, it employs a vivid array of camerawork – from jerky handheld work to epic sweeps of the St Petersburg location – to really capture the idiosyncrasies of the story. 

Jarrold really takes us into the mind of impoverished student Raskolnikov, a man who makes a virtue of his immorality in coming up with a plan to murder an unscrupulous pawnbroker as a justifiable good deed to the world at large. Fevered dream sequences, intensely visceral interactions, we delve right into his highly disorientated state of being as he struggles to ratify his choices in the face of their impact on his friends and family and as the law encroaches in on him.

And it is unafraid of being gruesomely realistic – there’s no shirking the grim authenticity of the poverty-stricken lives on show here, whole families living in tiny single rooms, the blood-spattering brutality of the murders, the harshness with which people treat each other. It all flows out of the novel and works towards establishing the trajectory of Raskolnikov, a most multifaceted character but one brought to extraordinarily vivid life by an excellent performance from John Simm.

He gets all of the complexity of this man – his intelligence, however misguided, his benevolence, however misdirected, his certainty, however misplaced. And being a quality BBC production, there’s a delightfully strong supporting cast, led by Ian McDiarmid as the wily prosecutor chasing Raskolnikov, Shaun Dingwall as his ever-faithful friend Razhumikin, and Kate Ashfield as his sister Dounia. Geraldine James, David Haig and Mark Benton also pop up, as does Leo Bill as a vicious drunk. Three hours of quality television.

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