The Magic of Charles Dickens

dickensI can say unequivocally that two of the best films I have seen this year were not in the cinema but rather on my local PBS station. The two just also happen to be based on the writings of Charles Dickens.

They are the stories of secrets, the distinction (and frivolity) of class in 19th century England. I speak of course of Little Dorrit and Bleak House. The latter I am only now seeing for the first time in its entirety.

For some reason these works are best when they are delivered over a long running time and have as close to the exacting details of their source material. This runs counter to my usual theory that the problem with too many films nowadays is that they unnecessarily drag out the story to fill a 90 minute to two hour running time. I make an exception in the case of Charles Dickens.

His stories deserve the treatment that only television and especially public television can allow. There are so many plots and subplots in his story that are integral to the final plot movements that any major omission would be catastrophic. I am glad that they are this long. Sure it takes forever for them to watch, but at the end they are well worth the wait.

I have seen a couple of big screen adaptations (not all) of his work and they have left me a little less than satisfied. With the outstanding noted exception of 1951’s Scrooge (A Christmas Carol) starring Alistair Simm. I think the reason this works in a 90 minute film is because the source material was not a novel but rather a novellette so instead of having to be compressed for time you have just the right amount of time to tell a story.

For more on the life and times of Charles Dickens, I highly recommend this program which also aired on PBS.