Dickens on film

Earlier this year, you couldn’t escape Charles Dickens. 2012 marks the bicentenary of his birth, and to celebrate, Filmspot will be presenting ‘A Tale of Two Cities‘ at the CMP Festival on 7th July (information at the end of this post). In preparation of this, we thought we’d have a look at some attempts to bring one of the cinematic of writers to the silver screen.

1. Great Expectations (David Lean) [1946]

David Lean created two Dickens adaptations – this, his first, and Oliver Twist. Immediately grabbing the viewer through this wholly disturbing encounter with Magwitch, Lean captures the atmosphere of the novel better than any other director. Lean was not a slave to his source material – he cut characters and sections of the text he classed as ‘marginal’, saying “Don’t keep every character, just take a sniff of each one.” This approach really pays off, and the film works as a materpiece in its own right, rather than merely a retelling of Dicken’s book on screen.

2. Scrooge (Brian Desmond Hurst) [1951]

There have been many attempts to convey Dicken’s classic Christmas morality tale on film – from the Muppets and Mickey Mouse to Blackadder and Bill Murray in ‘Scrooged’, but this is easily the best loved version. Alastair Sim is probably the most recognisable Dickens character ever committed to screen. The audience really do feel for Scrooge as he transforms from cold, heartless money-obsessed miser to a figure to be pitied and finally to reformed man, giddy with the love of humanity. The whole treatment of the film is outstanding, however – the cast is a real ‘whos who’ of British stage and screen of the time, the sets are beautiful and the music eerie. Note perfect for a ‘ghost story for Christmas…’

3. The Signalman (Lawrence Gordon Clarke) [1976]

…and while we’re on the subject of ‘ghost stories for Christmas’ – this slightly less well known Dickens adaptation is real gem. Not for the faint hearted, it was created by the BBC as part of their series of spooky short films screened at Christmas. It is based on Dickens’s 1866 short story, which was inspired by his own involvement in the 1865 Staplehurst Rail Crash. Denholm Elliot is fantastic as the titular character, who recounts tales of being visited by a ghostly presence just prior to a tragedy occuring on the railway, which in both cases he has been powerless to prevent. He is agitated because he has recently seen the apparition and is terrified that there will be a terrible accident… You can watch the film in its entirity on YouTube (in I think four parts), and I would recommend it, although it will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end!

4. Oliver Twist (Roman Polanski) [2005]

There are of course many versions of Oliver Twist (for example, David Lean’s, as mentioned above, Carol Reed’s iconic and well-loved musical version), but I have chosen to highlight Polanski’s sumptuous adaptation here. Jamie Foreman is masterly as the evil Bill Sykes, and Ben Kingsley is very well cast as Fagin – costumes, art direction and music are all spot-on. The only disappointment here is that it’s a very straightforward adaptation; perhaps audiences expect something a little more biting than this from Roman Polanski.

5. A Tale of Two Cities (Jack Conway) [1935]

There are two post-silent era versions of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ worthy of note – one is the 1958 version, which we will screen this Saturday at St Nicholas Church in Brighton (details below), the other is this film from 1935 featuring Ronald Colman as Sydney Carton. Colman classed this as his favourite performance of his entire career, and it’s easy to see why – he has really thrown himself into the role. Produced by David O. Selznick, best known for his work on ‘Gone with the Wind’ and ‘Rebecca’, A Tale of Two Cities has his fingerprints all over it – a really good example of a big budget Hollywood adaptation.

A Tale of Two Cities [1958] will screen this Saturday 7th July (doors 6.00pm, film at 6.30pm) at St. Nicholas Church, Brighton. For more information, visit http://www.cmpcaonline.org.uk/category_id__72.aspx. Tickets £7 (£5 concessions), from Dome Box Office (01273 709709), www.brightonticketshop.com or on the door.

This event is part of the CMP Festival’s ‘DICKENS OF A DAY’, a day-long celebration of bicentenary of the famous author. On 7th July there will be other literary events, details of which can be found here http://www.cmpcaonline.org.uk/category_id__74_path__0p72p.aspx. In-keeping with the French theme of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, crepes, galettes, French wine and cider will be available to purchase from The French Revolution before the film.

If you still have an appetite for Dickens  after Saturday, Rose Collis will be launching her Dickens-themed walking tour on Sunday 8 July. Full details are available here: http://www.cmpcaonline.org.uk/page_id__281_path__0p72p75p.aspx

Don’t forget, the Filmspot team have a second outing at the CMP Festival this year – on Sunday 15 July, we will present Les Enfants du Paradiswith theatrically costumed drawing sessions (drawing optional!) from Jake Spicer and DRAW: Brighton Life Drawing Sessions. More information will follow in our next blog post, but tickets are available from Dome Box Office (01273 709709), www.brightonticketshop.com or on the door.

We hope to see you soon!

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