An exploration of Charles Dickens's contribution to the history of film and television, using archive footage of classic and less familiar adaptations from 1898 to the present day.
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# Food, glorious food
# What wouldn't we give for
# That extra bit more
# That's all that we live for
# Why should we be fated
# To do nothing but brood
# Oh, food, magical food
# Wonderful food, marvellous food
# Heavenly food, beautiful food. #
Please, sir, I want some more.
"My father's family name being Pirrip and my Christian name Philip,
"my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer
"or more explicit than Pip. So I called myself Pip.
"And came to be called Pip."
WADING BIRD'S PIPING CALL
CREAKING OF BRANCHES
-Keep still, you little devil or I'll cut your throat.
-No, sir, no.
"A fearful man,
"all in coarse grey with a great iron on his leg.
"A man with no hat and broken shoes, with an old rag tied round his head.
"A man who'd been soaked in water and smothered in mud
"and lamed by stones and cut by flints
"and stung by nettles,
"and torn by briars, who limped and shivered, and glared and growled,
"and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin."
What are your views on this question of use of dialogue?
Well, I must say I find dialogue... a bore for the most part.
If you look back on any film you've seen,
you don't remember lines of dialogue, you remember pictures.
"I look into my earliest Christmas recollections,
"up yonder on the tree, among the green holly and red berries
"is that infernal snuffbox out of which thus sprang
"a demoniacal counsellor in a black gown
"and a large cardboard man
"who used to be hung against the wall and pulled by a string.
"And when he got his legs around his neck,
"which he quite often did, he was ghastly
"and not a creature to be alone with."
For Christmas as we understand it,
that benevolent family occasion,
was merely invented by Dickens.
And yet, when we look at this passage describing his early toys,
there's something very droll to be found there.
the man who was hanged by his neck until he was dead, the murderer,
and the mask of death.
It's very typical of Dickens' work.
There's always this mixture of black and white,
of evil and of good, of violence and of peace.
He tried very hard to separate them.
He was a very simple New Testament Christian.
And wanted to have evil over here - the villain, very black.
And good over here - the hero, whiter than white.
It wouldn't work that way.
It always became mixed up in a curious sort of fashion.
Well, we had great success, David Lean and I, with Great Expectations.
Such a success that we're eternally grateful to Charlie Dickens,
and we thought we'd have another go. And so we picked,
after a lot of consideration, Oliver Twist
"When this tale was first published, I fully expected it
"to be objected to on high moral grounds.
"It seems a very coarse and shocking circumstance,
"that among the characters in my story,
"I had chosen from the filthiest, most criminal,
"and degraded of London's population.
"The character of Sykes is a thief, Fagin is a receiver of stolen goods,
"the boys are pickpockets, and Nancy is a prostitute."
Why d'you look at me like that?
I won't scream then. Not once. Tell me what I've done.
Nothing to hurt you, Bill, so help me God.
You was watched. Every word you said was heard.
Then you know that I was true to you, Bill.
True to you, do you hear me?
I'm not ready to go yet.
"Yet I saw no reason when I wrote the book, why the dregs of life,
"so long as their speech did not offend the ear,
"should not serve the purpose of a moral.
"In this spirit,
"I wished to show in little Oliver,
"the principle of good, surviving through every adverse circumstance,
"and triumphing at last, amongst what companions I could try him best."
You write a script or work on a script
then you get a picture of a certain person on your mind, of course.
And you begin to think what actor could fit into that picture.
In Great Expectations,
Alec Guinness played the part of a pale, young gentleman.
I don't know if you remember but this is what he looked like.
After I'd finished that film, I decided to make Oliver Twist.
And in it was the part of Fagin.
Alec came to me and said, "I would like to play Fagin."
Now, this is what Fagin looked like in Cruikshank's drawings.
Now, as a result of this, I said to Alec,
"You're out of your mind, you can't play that."
He said, "Look, just give me a screen test. Just give me a test.
"I'll put a little makeup on and do various things
"and I think I can do it."
I said, "Well, I think you're mad but all right, do it."
And this is what he did.
Clever dogs. Clever dogs.
Never blowed on old Fagin.
Why are you awake?
Speak up, boy, quick.
I couldn't sleep any longer, sir.
-What have you seen?
You were not awake an hour ago?
-No, no indeed, sir.
-Are you sure?
Tush, tush, my dear.
-Did you see any of those pretty things, dear?
They... They're mine, Oliver.
In the year 1836, Messrs Chapman and Hall, the publishers,
paid the vast sum of £14 a month
to a comparatively obscure young journalist of 24 years of age
to write a series of comic adventures around an imaginary club
and the misadventures of its members. His name was Charles Dickens
and he obliged by creating the Pickwick Club,
forthwith bestowing immortal fame
upon this little gentleman you now see before you -
Mr Samuel Pickwick himself.
This is Dickens' novel
The Posthumous Papers Of The Pickwick Club
which is The Pickwick Papers these days.
It's published not as a novel as we think of it,
but in 19 parts that came out monthly
with illustrations in the very beginnings of them.
Dickens would write the part that he was going to publish that month
and then give it to the publisher
and then an illustrator would read it
and then make illustrations for scenes they had agreed on.
In this case, the meeting.
And they would be played to be printed on
and bound at the beginning instead of bound in with the text.
People would be absolutely hooked to see what happened next.
There's stories of people getting off the boat in America
and being jumped on by crowds
saying, "What happens next?" in whatever the current Dickens title is.
"What happens next?" "What do the characters do?"
-Change for the waiter?
-No, no, my good sir, our privilege.
-If you insist.
-Your health, sir.
-And yours, gentlemen.
Fine girl. Not a patch on the Spanish though.
Ah, noble creatures. Jet hair, black eyes, lovely form,
sweet creatures. Beautiful.
At the height of its serialisation,
the Pickwick Papers sold 40,000 copies a month.
It was a new kind of book, featuring a new kind of person -
carefree, not trapped by class, motivated by a desire for fun.
A person not unlike Charles Dickens himself.
Not the old bearded luminary of the ten pound note.
He was 25,
a sparkling rocket rising up in the literary firmament,
one of the most glamorous young men in London almost overnight.
Sartorially, Dickens was a dandy.
He once observed that he had the fondness of a savage for finery.
His characters proved instantly memorable.
This was due as much to the illustrations
as to the writing itself,
which fixed the characters visually in the reader's mind.
These were some of the greatest illustrators of the age -
Robert Seymour, George Cruikshank and most often, Hablot Browne.
Dickens' panoramic powers of description
became the scenarios for a cinema not yet invented,
with himself as the director,
and his illustrators as his cinematographers.
These pictures would provide the cast, the set designs,
"It is the custom on the stage in all good murderous melodramas,
"to present the tragic and the comic scenes in a regular alternation
"as the red and white,
"in the side of streaky, well-cured bacon."
"The hero sinks upon his straw bed,
"weighed down by fetters and misfortunes,
"In the next scene, his faithful but unconscious squire
"regales the audience with a comic song.
"Such changes appear absurd,
"but they are not as unnatural as they would seem at first.
"The transitions in real life,
"from well spread boards to death beds, and from mourning weeds
"to holiday garments, are not a whit less startling."
Presenting Gabriel Grub
or The Goblin Who Stole A Sexton.
"Little Charles was a terrible boy for reading.
"He read stories, he told stories.
"Sometimes he'd come downstairs
"and say to me, "Mary, clear the kitchen,
""we're going to have such a game."
"And then George Stroughill, who was a friend of the family,
"would come in with his magic lantern,
"and they would sing, recite, and perform parts of plays."
"Gabriel Grub chuckled very heartily to himself.
""Brave lodgings for one, brave lodgings for one.
"£"A few feet of cold earth, when life is done.
""A coffin at Christmas. A Christmas box! Ho! Ho! Ho!"
""Ho! Ho! Ho!" echoed a voice which sounded close behind him.
"Gabriel started up
"and stood rooted to the spot with astonishment and terror.
"For his eyes rested on a form that made his blood run cold.
"Seated on an upright tombstone close to him
"was a strange unearthly figure.
"No being of this world."
Such are the strange monsters
that move around in Dickens' wonderful geography.
Such, really, are the memories, the language of memory that he has
and it is, I suppose again, the language of childhood.
The way that he sees them comes directly from the way
that we see things when we are children.
For Dickens, as I said, invented Christmas,
did also maybe invent children in fiction.
For him, children are the exalted and the salt of the earth.
Old heads on young shoulders, wisdom in innocence.
This we see in Paul Dombey, in Pip, in Jo, in little Nell.
And Victorian society did desperately, desperately offend against children.
It brutalised them, keep them ignorant, starved them,
kept them in terrible fevered tenements.
We may remember Jo,
the boy who sweeps the crossings in Bleak House,
who mostly has to sleep out in the open.
You'll be busy today, Jo.
Take you across, sir?
-You have money for your supper and lodgings tonight?
-I can buy me supper.
""Jo, did you ever know a prayer?"
""Never knowed nothing, sir. Not so much as one short prayer.
""No, sir, nothing at all.
""Mr Chadband, he was praying once at Mr Sangsby's and I heard him
""but he sounded as if he was speaking to himself and not to me.""
HE STRUGGLES FOR BREATH
Jo, did you ever know a prayer?
Jo, you need to say what I say.
Which art in heaven.
Dead. Dead, Your Majesty.
Dead, my lords and gentlemen.
Dead, your worships.
Dead, right reverends of every order and degree.
Dead and dying is around us.
What could be more poignant than violence meted out to a child?
What could be more pathetic than the death of a child?
What other novelist ever depicted so many moving scenes?
In the late 1830s - when Dickens came to fame -
almost half of the funerals in London -
the city that always his greatest source of inspiration -
were of children under the age of nine.
Does Dickens ever tell a tale without a dramatic death?
Is there ever a Dickens novel without crime?
He invokes a world of injustice, populated by lawyers,
litigants and that great new invention of the age, the detective.
Could this perhaps be a clue to the unique characteristics
of a writer whose work would be so readily realised in film?
This wonderful, peculiar mixture of statistical reality
with phantasmagorical mystery.
He'd written in a short time Pickwick Papers,
Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop.
All enormous successes.
but sometimes violent and terrible with evil right at the centre.
GASPS AND BOOING
It's the quality that comes from fairy stories.
The fact that THINGS in his books are as alive as people.
-Am I correct in its content, partner?
-Take care. Guard it with your life.
Gentlemen...let us gamble.
The novels of Dickens' bore the same relationship to his readers
that film bears to the same strata in our time.
They compelled the reader to live the same passions,
they appeal to the same good and sentimental elements, as does film.
-Well, bye Joe.
-God bless you, dear old Pip. God bless you.
Many of Dickens's major books
feature the tales of central characters,
like Pip in Great Expectations.
One day I'll come and see you in London, Pip.
And then what larks, eh?
-Goodbye, Pip, old chap.
Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, Martin Chuzzlewit, Amy Dorrit,
David Copperfield - all young, unformed and morally innocent
onto whom readers and viewers
can project their own journeys through life.
David admits that he's not absolutely madly in love with actors.
He loves the technical side of filming
and he's a genius at it and it was interesting to watch.
I got on very well with David always.
I remember him saying to me, "Johnny, you know, this is a problem
"to you, because it really is...
"Pip is a coat hanger, that's what he is. He's a coat hanger
"for all these wonderful characters that are hung on him.
"They're all terrific,
"the Guinness part, the Magwitch part, the Miss Havisham part."
He said, "I want you to do it cos I think you hold it together
"and give a fairly strong performance, but it is a coat hanger." And he was right.
The picaresque quests of these eponymous heroes
are always eclipsed by a constellation of unforgettable grotesques.
Lady Jane, I can read.
I can read, I can read!
And it's these eccentric characters
that translate so readily to the stage and then to the screen -
characters every actor wants to play,
characters impossible to overact.
PEOPLE SHOUT FROM BELOW
TAPS ON GLASS
Agh! Mr Micawber!
Children, this is your papa!
on an aerial housetop, and vice versa,
I have thwarted the malevolent machinations
of our scurrilous enemies.
I have arrived.
HE GREETS THEM
When sound came into film,
the opportunity arose for actors to exploit not only the pantomime of the silent film,
but also the dramatic dialogue of the Victorian stage.
Let me do the fatal deed,
and forget the wretch once known as Wilkins Micawber ever lived.
He will do away with himself.
I know it. The father of my children!
I think it is only a scratch, Mrs Micawber.
Has he gone?
Dickens always loved popular theatrical melodramas,
-prefiguring cinematic special effects.
His daughter Mamie wrote that she would hear him in his study
playing out the characters as he was writing,
imbuing them with idiosyncratic mannerisms, gestures and speech.
His first ambition was to be on the stage.
He saw himself as an actor manager and ran his own theatrical troupe.
Alone in the African jungle,
and married to an outlaw!
The first time I saw that admirable woman, Nickleby,
she stood on her head on the butt-end of a spear,
surrounded by blazing fireworks.
Such grace, coupled with such dignity -
I adored her from that moment.
And yet another blow!
My daughter lost!
Wild beasts beset my path!
My darling, allow me to introduce Mr Nicholas Nickleby and his friend.
I am very glad to meet you, sir.
In half an hour, the sun will set,
and then, then, where shall I be?
The end of Act Four, Scene Two, The Mortal Struggle,
the most heart-rending piece. Ah!
The Infant Phenomenon, Miss Ninetta Crummles, age ten.
Dickens became a major playwright of his time by default.
All his books were pirated into stage adaptations,
often before the final instalment of the story had been published.
The theatrical pick-pockets who stole his work infuriated him
because none of the box office receipts went to Dickens himself.
It's a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.
-Let go. I'll get me knife.
You can't drown me.
If I have an obstinate dog, I beat him.
I have something to tell you.
I am your mother, Esther.
GASPS AND APPLAUSE
"Mr Charles Dickens, the eminent novelist,
"gave the first of three readings
"in the music hall, Nelson Street, last evening.
"The hall was filled by a most respectable company,
"who were gratified with the exquisite treat of hearing David Copperfield
"read as perhaps no other man living could read it,
"and without ceremony of introduction of any kind,
"he commenced his reading.
"His selection consisted of
"Boots At The Holly Tree Inn, Sykes And Nancy,
"a most thrilling episode from Oliver Twist,
"and the world-renowned Mrs Gamp.
"As a reader of his own particular work,
"I advise everyone who can possibly make it convenient
"not to omit availing themselves of one of the two opportunities of enjoying a similar treat
"which will be offered tonight and tomorrow night."
Whenever you get a friend, take him as you'd take an orange,
and squeeze him. Squeeze him
until you've squeezed all the goodness out of him.
Then fling him away.
"Bransby Williams, the Dickens Delineator,
"enthralled me with imitations of Uriah Heap, Bill Sykes,
"and the Old Man of the Old Curiosity Shop.
"The legerdemain of this handsome, dignified young man,
"making up before a rowdy Glasgow audience,
"and transforming himself into these fascinating characters,
"opened up another aspect of the theatre.
"He also ignited my curiosity about literature.
"I wanted to know what was this immured mystery that lay hidden in books,
"these sepia Dickens characters
"that moved in such a strange Cruikshankian world.
"Although I could hardly read, I eventually bought Oliver Twist.
"So enthralled was I with Dickens' characters,
"that I would imitate Bramsby Williams imitating them."
In the early years of cinema,
with technology at once primitive yet revolutionary,
producers immediately realised that Dickens' stories
were a treasure trove of narrative
and extraordinary characters for the new medium.
MUSIC: "The First Noel"
There had been dozens of stage versions of A Christmas Carol,
and the earliest films might well have been shot on a theatrical stage,
with the action recorded from one fixed camera position.
But the cinematograph could present the story
in ways which had never been achieved before.
One of the great pioneers of American cinema
was the mighty DW Griffith,
director of epics such as Intolerance.
From the beginning of his career,
he always realised the potential of film
to tell stories by cutting between different spheres of action.
He made a film from a Dickens story, The Cricket On The Hearth.
His first wife, Linda Arvidson,
who featured in that two-reeler in 1909,
later told this anecdote.
"When Mr Griffith suggested a scene showing Annie Lee waiting for her husband's return,
"to be followed by a scene of Enoch cast away on a desert island,
"it was thought altogether too distracting.
"How can you tell a story jumping about like that?
"The people won't know what it's about!
""Well," said Mr Griffith, "doesn't Dickens write that way?"
""Yes, but that's Dickens! That's novel writing. That's different."
""Oh, not so much. These are picture stories, not so different.""
It is just cutting, just going from one picture to another,
so that those numbers of pictures tell a story.
Personally, I enjoyed cutting...
almost as much as direction, I think. I find it a fascinating job.
Most people, I think that...
they think that "cutting" is a question of "cutting out" things.
It's nothing to do with "cutting out" things at all.
It's the juxtaposition of pictures and, erm...
..you can make or mar a film by cutting.
You can't make a bad film good.
You can make it tolerable, sometimes.
And you can certainly ruin a bad...
ruin a good film.
As a member of the public watching your film go through,
would I recognise a piece of good cutting?
I hope not!
Like all technique, one should be completely unconscious of it.
In his essay, Dickens, Griffith and the Film Today,
Eisenstein goes so far as to credit Dickens as the true progenitor,
the unknowing inventor of film editing, montage.
Using Oliver Twist, Eisenstein takes a section of the book to analyse Dickens' literary method,
to demonstrate the way he uses juxtaposition to create tension,
to intensify suspense, and to engage the audience.
-Is that the bookseller?
Well, stop the boy. There are some to go back.
-He's gone, sir.
-Oh, dear me! I wanted to return some tonight.
Send Oliver with them.
He'll be sure to deliver them safely, you know.
Yes, do let me go, sir. I'll run all the way.
Scene 1, the old gentleman.
Scene 2, the departure of Oliver.
Scene 3, the old gentleman and the watch: it is still light.
Scene 4, digression on the character of Mr Grimwig.
Scene 5, the old gentleman and the watch: gathering twilight.
Scene 6, Fagin, Sykes and Nancy in a public house.
Scene 7, Oliver is kidnapped on the street.
Scene 8, the old gentleman and the watch: the gas lamps have been lit.
Scene 9, Oliver is dragged back to Fagin.
As we can see, we have before us a model of parallel montage of two storylines,
where one, the waiting gentleman,
emotionally heightens the tension and drama of the other,
the capture of Oliver.
Well, Mrs Bedwin.
I'm afraid he's lost his way, sir.
You mean he never went there, eh?
There you are. The boy's an impostor!
It can't be! It can't be!
What do you mean, "it can't be"?
You old women never believe anything but quack doctors and lying story books!
He was a dear, grateful, gentle child, sir.
I know what children are, and I have done these 40 years.
And people who can't say the same, shouldn't say anything about them!
That's my opinion.
That'll be all, Bedwin.
Ladies and gentlemen, is an exhibition of my profile.
I have got two.
In the introduction to his essay,
Eisenstein quoted these words of George Bernard Shaw.
"I was finding that the surest way to produce an effect of daring innovation and originality..."
How was that?
Once the talkies were established,
the Hollywood studios tried to lure to their script rooms
with promise of massive fame and wealth,
any writer of the time with a burgeoning reputation -
Shaw, Fitzgerald, Faulkner.
Charles Dickens proved to be every bit as bankable.
If I have an obstinate horse or a dog to deal with,
what do you think I do?
I don't know.
I beat him.
I make him wince and smart.
I say to myself, "I'll conquer that fellow."
And if it were to cost him all the blood he had, I'd do it.
David O. Selznick's David Copperfield
was followed with A Tale of Two Cities.
These high-budget productions were also huge popular hits,
proving to the studios that the literary classics of Dickens
could provide the source for box office triumph.
'It is a far, far better thing I do...
'..than I have ever done.
'It is a far, far better rest I go to...
'..than I have ever known.'
Notwithstanding the extravagant resources expended in these films,
could the single feature ever encompass the social scope,
or thematic complexities of the original books?
So began the next chapter in the story of Dickens' adaptation,
this time for the small screen.
Five o'clock every Sunday on BBC television.
Long running, multi-episodic,
as close to a comprehensive translation
of his lengthy narratives as had ever been attempted.
This extended form meant that the longer, more complex books -
less attractive to feature film producers -
could be taken on.
These serials became a fixture of British life.
Though they were originally designed for children,
the whole family would sit enthralled.
No longer viewing with strangers, like in the cinema,
but in your own home.
You're here at 11 o'clock.
No sooner, no later.
Not before, not afterwards.
Nay, Tom! Highwaymen don't need to be shabby!
'Tis a better business than you think!
Sunday tea-time became a dream arena,
securing a central place for the wonders of Dickens,
in the consciousness of yet another generation.
You had to make sure, when you were writing the serial,
that you didn't end a scene with the same two actors in it...
because the actors have got to go over to another set,
and there were cables and all sorts of things,
and lighting and sound cables all over the floor.
And they had to get time to get to another set,
so you had to be very clever and start the scene with two other people,
and introduce them naturally.
And sometimes, of course, they came in panting for breath!
Do we want the words, Jim, the previous lines, or not?
Quiet. Stand by. No lines for Florence's cue.
Just hand the baby on the cue.
You may go and look at your little brother, if you like, I daresay.
-But don't touch him.
Shh! There, there, there, my pet.
You mustn't cry! It's over.
You have a new brother.
Once again, the legend of Dickens was revitalised in these serialisations.
His characters and stories were now known as much through film and television
as through the books themselves.
"In these times of ours,
"though concerning the exact year - there is no need to be precise -
"a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it,
"floated on the Thames, between Southwark bridge, which is of iron,
"and London Bridge, which is of stone,
"as an autumn evening was closing in.
"The figures in this boat
"were those of a strong man with ragged, grizzled hair
"and a sun-browned face,
"and a dark girl of 19 or 20,
"sufficiently like him to be recognisable as his daughter.
"The girl rowed, pulling a pair of sculls very easily.
"She watched his face as earnestly as she watched the river,
"but in the intensity of her look, there was a touch of dread
I'll row, Lizzie.
No. No, father, I cannot sit so near it.
-What hurt can it do you?
None. I cannot bear it.
It's my belief that you hate the very sight of this river,
as if it wasn't your living,
as it wasn't meat and drink to you.
Television serialisation is perhaps most analogous
to the original magazine publication.
Increasing production values and escalating budgets
led to ever more lavish and authentic adaptations
that the early television producers could never have imagined.
'Because so much of the action in the book takes place on, or by, the river,'
obviously we had to find a scale of water that would convey the fact
that there are people living on the river,
dying on the river,
all the kind of heart and life of the city that comes from the water.
And we couldn't find that anywhere in London for obvious reasons,
cos the 20th century is rather evident.
So once we'd made the kind of fundamental decision to build a set,
that released us to look elsewhere.
Dickens made use of the grim reality of the river of his day
just as he documented every aspect
of the unprecedented revolution in London life.
But always, behind his journalistic naturalism,
lies a world of myth and symbol.
The classic Dickens scenario,
is the site for eternal dramas worthy of ancient legend -
the Bible, the Arabian Nights.
What is this place?
Why do you bring me here?
It's where they brought him, Miss, to bury him.
In this dreadful place?
I have come back! To let in the sunlight!
THUMPING AND BANGING
Look, Estella, look! Nothing but dust and decay.
The whole estate has been absorbed in costs.
And thus the whole suit lapses and melts away.
Dickens is concerned with stories and issues
where tension is contingent on deep conflicts and oppositions.
Good and evil, rich and poor.
Young and old, imprisoned and free.
Truth and deception, justice and injustice.
Crime and authority, order and chaos.
All on an epic scale.
Like Shakespeare before him,
his work most truly lends itself to other forms because of its humanity,
its inherent grasp of our complex psychologies.
I'm an unfortunate father.
Unfortunate but always a gentleman.
How will a dustman know what to do with such wealth?
That's for Mr Boffin and his good wife to decide
when I've explained to them the full extent of their fortune.
Of the work of Dickens in whatever form, it can truly be said,
all human life is there.
For the past 110 years, from the earliest days of silent film,
through the golden age of Hollywood,
through the urgency of post-war British cinema,
to the moment when television became THE popular medium of its time,
film-makers have striven to do justice
to the dazzling inventiveness of Dickens,
his imaginative vision.
Though the techniques of film-making have become ever more sophisticated,
the story remains the same.
In 2012, the bicentenary of his birth,
prestige productions for both film and television continue to be made.
We have no reason to suppose that on his 300th anniversary,
the work of Charles Dickens will have ceased to be central
to forms of storytelling in media known and as yet unknown.
Enduring...as Christmas itself.
I've got it!
Yep! Why does everything seem to happen to me?
Oh, Gonzo, speak to me.
I mean, Mr Dickens, Charlie, are ya hurt?
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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From the magical films of the silent era to the celebrated work of director David Lean and high definition television, this documentary revisits films and interviews from the archive to answer the question of why Dickens's novels have inspired so many hundreds of adaptations on screen.
This co-production with Dickens 2012 not only encapsulates the history of Dickens's time, but also of the 100 years in which his work has survived most acutely on screen. It is not only the stories, themes and characters of Dickens's writing that translate so well onto screen - Sergei Eisenstein argued that there is something essentially filmic in his unique prose style; that Dickens's rapid 'cutting' within scenes and from scene to scene coupled with his seamless mixture of the bizarrely comic with the terrifyingly profound was itself proto-cinematic.
Dickens wrote the way a camera saw before film had been invented and he remains to this day the most cinematic of writers.