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Hard Times (1977)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Episode 1, ITV, tx. 25/10/1977

A travelling circus comes to Coketown in the north of England in the 1850s. In his school, Thomas Gradgrind instils in the children a love of facts and figures above all else. He asks a new student, Sissy Jupe, to describe a horse, but she is unable to do so; the other students have no such problem. Walking home, Gradgrind is horrified to discover his children Louisa and Tom are at the circus. They tell him that they were bored by their studies and were curious, but he reprimands them sternly. When they arrive home, they find Gradgrind's friend Bounderby waiting for them. He has been telling Mrs Gradgrind of the suffering he endured after being abandoned by his mother as a child. Louisa tells her father that they decided to go to the circus after Sissy came to ask about going to the school.

Bounderby promises to speak to Gradgrind on Louisa and Tom's behalf, and exacts a kiss from Louisa as payment. Louisa tells Tom that she loathes Bounderby. Grandgrind and Bounderby walk the streets looking for Sissy's father. At the circus, they are told that Mr Jupe has abandoned his daughter. Gradgrind feels that he owes Sissy something and offers to take her in. The circus owner, Mr Sleary, promises to abide by her decision to gain an education, but reminds Gradgrind that people must be amused occasionally, as they cannot work all the time.

Stephen Blackpool walks his friend Rachel home after they attend chapel, but she feels that it is not yet possible for them to be seen openly together. Blackpool returns home to find that his drunken wife has returned after five years. The next day he goes to see Bounderby, his boss at the mill, to find out if it is possible to get a divorce. Bounderby is unsympathetic, telling him that it is not possible as it would cost several thousand pounds.

Tom tells Louisa that he hates his studies and that he has agreed to be apprenticed at Bounderby's because he knows that he will get an easy time of it, thanks to the mill owner's affection for Louisa. Sissy's schoolwork is a disappointment, but she will remain in the household as Mrs Gradgrind has grown fond of her. At Louisa's urging, Sissy speaks of her father and of his decision to leave her.