The Catherine Cookson Experience: “The Dwelling Place”
This week, I tackle the seemingly endless and screamingly worst of all the Cookson adaptations I have seen, The Dwelling Place.
Brief note about the Experience: I don’t think I’ll be recapping each one. Some of these are deadly dull stuff. However, I’m starting out with some of the really terrible ones to build appreciation for the ones that aren’t so bad. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome involving overwrought, cheaply-made period dramas of the 90s. By the time I hit The Wingless Bird, you’ll think I’m screencapping Citizen Kane.
So, The Dwelling Place is about the fiercely beautiful and clever Cissie Brodie, who marries her rapist.
I’d like to say this is an unusual screencap, but it’s not. We just sort of have to take the movie’s word for it that she’s smart and pretty, since she spends most of the movie staring blankly into space and marrying rapists.
Anyway, after her parents’ death, Cissie packs up her passel of brothers and sisters and moves them all into a cave to prevent them having to go into the workhouse. Life sucks, and then it sucks more when the lord’s son rapes her and she comes down with a case of bairnsketball. It’s a searing commentary about the plight of the poor! Also, Cissie marries her rapist.
Heroine: Cissie Brodie, hardscrabble young lady who marries her rapist.
Siblings that require looking-after: Innumerable downtrodden siblings played by varyingly-talented child actors.
Illegitimate (Self or sibling): Her bairnsketball.
Asshole Father?: Check!
Romantic interest(s): Matthew Turnbull, the local carpenter; Clive Fischel, rapist.
Bairnsketballs: Oh, is there ever.
Fistfights: Does it count as a fistfight if you shoot your own sister?
Assaults: One rape, by a man she MARRIES LATER. OH MY GOD.
“Maybe if our Joe hadn’t set a trap for the rabbit…”
Our story begins when Cissie Brody’s parents kick the bucket, and she finds out that their hovel is being repossessed. It’s the workhouse for them, then – except Cissie knows better than to send her family to some workhouse where the little kids will have to hand over their wages to a manager. She’s going to make them all live in a cave instead, and then the little kids will hand over their wages to her!
That’s Cissie and eight of the innumerable brood hauling ass off to Cavesville.
One of the funniest things about this miniseries is that everyone else you meet in the entire thing thinks it’s a stupid idea to live in a cave. The priest is like, “…a cave, really?” and the guy who’s clearing out the furniture from the hovel actually lets them take all the furniture into the cave, because he’s like, “…a cave, really?”
Cissie’s only real ally is Matthew, the carpenter from the village, who’s sweet on Cissie even though he’s married to Rose the miller’s daughter. He’s played by Ray Stevenson, whom the Catherine Cookson miniseries have trained me never to trust, since he plays a jerk in two of them.
This is his, “…a cave, really?” face.
Life for the Brodie brood is really terrible. Some of the kids work in the mines, and some of them as maids in a fancy house somewhere. Meanwhile, Matthew sneaks away from his fiancÃ©e to help Cissie build a big bay window in the cave so they don’t all turn into downtroddensickles in the winter. It’s just as well he’s around, too, since kids are always coming back from the mine with head injuries and femurs sticking out and whatever. There are a lot of conversations like this:
Child: It’s me leg! Me leg is broken!
Matthew: Come on, let’s get you back in the cave. *picks up child*
Child: …a cave, really?
The other family we meet are the Fischels. They’re gentry! Also, they’re a can of nuts. Daddy Fischel’s an asshole, Clive Fischel’s a fop, and Isabelle Fischel has been driven insane by the fashions of the 1830s, one of history’s ugliest eras.
Let’s face it, if you had to wear those sleeves you’d have a bitchface on, too.
She and Clive have a really Flowers-in-the-Attic sibling thing going; lots of fondling and walking around. They run across Cissie, and Clive becomes obsessed with her beauty (?), which Isabelle is Not Happy About. In fact, she’s so pissy about it that when they run across her at the stream, Isabelle attacks her.
In the midst of trying to put an end to the girlfight, Clive falls over on top of Cissie, and apparently his pants fell down in the fracas, because as Isabella screams encouragement like it’s the last hundred yards of the Boston Marathon, Clive rapes Cissie.
It sucks. It sucks even more when Cissie comes down with a case of bairnsketball. She’s still fending off the dudes, though, since some random gentleman starts running around after her over the moors and asking pointed questions about the bairnsketball. He is, of course, in the employ of Daddy Fischel, who has sent his rapin’ son to sea, grounded his daughter, and is keeping tabs on the kiddo until he can buy it off her. Way to stay under the radar, Asshole Dad!
Cissie ends up having the baby (at the very same time as Matthew’s wedding reception – SYMBOLISM), and it survives. And man, is Daddy Fischel surprised when she doesn’t want to sell her kid! You get thirty minutes of this:
Daddy Fischel: I’ll pay you 5 pounds a week forever, in exchange for the child!
Cissie: No sir, I love him! Now I have to be going home to me cave.
Daddy Fischel: …a cave, really?
Matthew, meanwhile, keeps running up to the cave in the middle of the night for a little of this:
Hot face-smushing action! He moans about how he loves her, even though he could never even consider marrying her. How…sweet? Here, he consoles her for having given up the bairn in exchange for the commute of a sentence for her younger sister. She stole something, whatever.
Meanwhile, Clive is back from sea.
Even though he’s wearing the bad-guy moustache, he’s apparently contrite about what he’s done. We know this because when he sees Cissie again, he follows her into the secluded glen where she keeps an eye on her kid and Daddy Fischel, and when she sees Clive and tries to run away he lies down on top of her so he can explain how contrite he is! What a sweetie.
Best part of this entire miniseries: Clive is SUPER SURPRISED that Cissie keeps trying to avoid him, and he keeps chasing her down and pinning her to the ground and to cave walls and stuff, totally indignant. I know it’s a terrible situation, but it’s so badly done that what is supposed to be creepy is hysterically funny instead.
Her: *screaming and trying to escape* Let go of me!
Him: *totally baffled* What is your DEAL?
When he offers to help her get custody of her son back, though, she listens. And he makes good on his word and brings him to her in her cave-palace!
I’d say all this change of custody is really scarring, but I think this kid will have plenty of problems just from his wardrobe.
Turns out not everyone likes this arrangement. You know who really hates the arrangement? Isabelle! …no, I don’t know why either!
When they can’t get all of your sleeves in the mid-shot, you know it’s the 1830s!
She tries to kill Cissie, but thankfully Clive is stalking nearby and SHOOTS HER IN THE HEAD before she can fire. Matthew, who was also nearby (busy day for stalking Cissie, I guess), discovers that the shot to the head did not kill Isabelle. Instead, it was the fall from her horse; she landed on a rock. (And then the horse stepped on her. Then an eagle pecked her eyes out, and THEN she died.)
Anyway, Clive arranges for Cissie and her forty-five siblings to have a house of their own, and decides to go back to sea, until Cissie comes over and tells him he should stop blaming himself for raping her, since she should never have let her brother set rabbit traps on gentry property to begin with, and that was the problem. Which is weird, since I thought the problem was that he raped her, but what do I know?
He runs after her on the moor and asks her if she loves Matthew the carpenter. She’s like, “Nah, he’s never around when I need him.” Her ninety-six siblings are like, “Wait, what?”
Clive takes the opportunity to ask her if she loves him. Apparently she does! They kiss!
The horse speaks for all of us!