In the final installment of Little Dorrit, scriptwriter Andrew Davies softens Dickens' characters to offer the audience a more upbeat and, in some ways, more conventionally romantic ending. Thus, Arthur discovers the truth about his parentage, and in so doing belatedly experiences the maternal love he has always been denied. (Like many canonical Victorian novels, Little Dorrit features a combination of dead and bad mothers.) Mrs. Clennam dies almost at the same moment as her house collapses, instead of living another three years in a state of entire paralysis--a revision that heightens the symbolic (and literal, for that matter) implosion of her life, but also eliminates her equally symbolic imprisonment. Astonishingly, Flintwinch turns out to have preserved the papers not to enjoy "knowing I had got the better of you, and that I held the power over you" (2.30), but instead out of moral compunction, a rather unwarranted redemption with no precedent in Dickens. (Dickens' Flintwinch turns out to be a mini-Merdle of sorts, sponging off the Clennam accounts and then escaping from the fallen house to establish himself comfortably in Amsterdam.) There is no mention of Mr. Meagles' ongoing distress over his daughter's marriage. Meanwhile, those of us who were wondering how Davies was going to conclude Tattycoram's plot without landing himself in Unfortunate Implications got our answer: he simply skipped her self-abasing reconciliation with the Meagles.
I did have a moment of serious anxiety when Arthur and Amy started kissing passionately in prison, because this is Davies and one tends to expect inappropriate heritage sex, but no sex ensued.
But, speaking of Arthur and Amy, Davies' representation of their marriage also diverges subtly but significantly from Dickens'. Here are the novel's last two paragraphs:
They all gave place when the signing was done, and Little Dorrit and her husband walked out of the church alone. They paused for a moment on the steps of the portico, lookmg at the fresh perspective of the street in the autumn morning sun's bright rays, and then went down.
Went down into a modest life of usefulness and happiness. Went down to give a mother's care, in the fulness of time, to Fanny's neglected children no less than to their own, and to leave that lady going into Society for ever and a day. Went down to give a tender nurse and friend to Tip for some few years, who was never vexed by the great exactions he made of her, in return for the riches he might have given her if he had ever had them, and who lovingly closed his eyes upon the Marshalsea and all its blighted fruits. They went quietly down into the roaring streets, inseparable and blessed ; and as they passed along in sunshine and shade, the noisy and the eager, and the arrogant and the froward and the vain, fretted, and chafed, and made their usual uproar.
Arthur's and Amy's happiness makes no impact on the wider world, which continues on in its "usual uproar"; indeed, Amy's goodness does not even improve her siblings' flaws so much as it compensates for them (after all, she takes care of her sister's children but cannot make her sister a good mother). Moreover, once they leave the church, they are "alone," going forth together without the loving entourage of Meagles, Doyce, and company. By contrast, the adaptation ends in an echo of the conclusion to Davies' Bleak House, with virtually all of the surviving protagonists (Flintwinch excepted) following the happy couple out of the church and into an otherwise depopulated walk. This comic conclusion substitutes social harmony and the happily-ever-after for the novel's cooler vision of unrewarded private goodness and unwelcoming public chaos.