PBS (Sun., Nov. 19, 9 P.M. ET)
Okay, so the Europeans do classics better. Compare this lucent English-French production with the murky 1980 CBS adaptation of Dickens’s most political novel.
This four-part Masterpiece Theatre version is historically persuasive, well scored by Serge Franklin and nicely acted. The men in the cast—for example, John Mills as Jarvis Lorry, the British banker, and Jean-Marc Bory as the Marquis St. Evrémonde—generally make more convincing 18th-century figures than the women, especially Kathie Kriegel as Madame (Knit One, Guillotine Two) Defarge or Serena Gordon as Lucie Manette.
Since there is no narrator, we don’t hear the novel’s famous opening passage: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” In the first installment (the drama airs over a month of Sundays), Dr. Manette is released after 18 years of unjust imprisonment in France, and Charles Dar-nay goes on trial for treason in London.
The entire production is diffuse and leisurely by American television standards. But though this Tale’s wheels grind slowly, they do grind quite fine.