Dickens is no stranger to the cinema screen. Adaptations of his work have lit up the silver screen for decades, and The Invisible Woman, released on DVD this week, is only the latest in that long list. But why is Dickens' work such an important source of inspiration for film-makers? There's his colourful, unique characterisation, endlessly relatable situations of society's downtrodden, or simply fantastic storytelling. Whatever the reason, Dickens' work has made for some fine cinema. Here are just some of the very best.
The sheer scale of this novel makes it difficult for any adaptation to add up. Great Expectations is an enormous, sweeping story populated with a huge cast of characters. But director David Lean not only manages the task, but creates a stunning, atmospheric tale. The cinematography is beautiful, from the cemetery opening, the introduction of Miss Havisham as almost an apparition of loss, and it's dramatic climax, everything presented on screen is a delectable vision. The cast too is wonderful, especially Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham, a woman driven mad by her doomed wedding to the point of only being a shell of her previous self. Hunt plays Havisham's mental state beautifully: she is just as frightening as she is sympathetic. There have been other adaptations of this novels in the past seventy years, but all pale in comparison.
Theare are more adaptations of Dickens' short Christmas story than I can count, but the general rule is that everything is better with the Muppets. The beauty of this film is that it follows the plot of the book, with Michael Caine's Scrooge being taught the error of his ways and the consequences of his cruelty, but it does so with tongue firmly in cheek. The Great Gonzo plays Charles Dickens, narrating the story as his assistant Rizzo the Rat continually screws things up. Kermit is the ever reliable Bob Cratchit, while Jacob Marley's ghost is reimagined as the heckling Statler and Waldorf. It's also a musical, with cracking now-classics for Christmas like It Feels Like Christmas and Thankful Heart. Plus, Tiny Tim is even more heartbreaking as a tiny frog
In all honesty, I'm biased towards this film, as a member of my family played Peter Cratchit, but that doesn't mean it's not worthy of its place here. For Alastair Sim created the most iconic Ebenezer Scrooge of all, one on whom all other portrayals have been based since. There is much to love in this film, but it is Sim that will leave the lasting impression for decades to come.
Oliver Twist is also one of Dickens' most adapted works, from the very faithful 1948 version (also by David Lean) to the contemporary deconstruction Twist, set amongst hustlers in Canada and told from the perspective of the Artful Dodger. But this musical adaptation, taken from a stage play, is the greatest of all. With iconic songs and even more iconic performances, Oliver! has become the go-to example of Dickens' work for modern audiences. It seems impossible to imagine anyone other than Ron Moody in the role of Fagin, or Jack Wild as Dodger. And could anyone be a more intimidating Bill Sikes than the late, great Oliver Reed, rough, sinister and ruthless? Oliver! combines these wonderful performances with beautifully staged set pieces and sumptuous scenery. But it's greatest strength of all is Shani Wallis, the best, most resilient Nancy of all.
Please sir, can I have some more?
Check out our Ralph Fiennes Essentials
Or our full review of The Muppets Christmas Carol ?
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