Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dickens on Film

Most people know Dickens before they know Dickens. That sentence does seem like a tongue twister, yet it relates to the basic fact that people know of his stories and his characters long before they ever hear his name. Miss Havisham works as a secondary character in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books because people know of the slightly off lady dressed in her wedding gown as if it where widows weeds even if they haven't read Great Expectations. Dickens's stories have a universality to them. You know the stories, and most of us know them through the medium of film.

I was very young when I first discovered Dickens, again, that name meant nothing to me, what meant something to me was Mickey's Christmas Carol. I remember watching it on tv and being enraptured by it. This was so much better than any other Christmas special on tv. Mickey had Snoopy beaten by a mile. Scrooge was mean and sad and so many things, and awesomely a duck! Also, for the first time I can ever think of, Goofy wasn't just totally lame. As Marley's Ghost, he was actually a little scary, in particular with the door knocker scene. This aired long before such a thing as a VCR existed in my family, so it was something I looked forward to every Christmas. I even remember dreaming about it. This was almost as good as Christmas itself.

Dickens got me at that young age. Over the years I have watched many an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, from plays where my 6th grade teacher's brother was in the production, a production I might add that cast everyone by if they could fit the costumes because they didn't have the money to replace any of them, to Muppets to Bill Murray, to bad animation to Captain Picard to Blackadder. I have watched them all hoping to find the same joy. But none have come up to the wide eyed childish joy of Mickey Mouse. I'm sure my father would be appalled that I chose a Duck over George C. Scott, so I should probably mention that at this juncture. Love live the Duck!

While I connected to a cartoon from the 1980s, Dickens's works have been adapted continuously for the screen since the invention of cinema. Many of his works were adopted for the stage during his own lifetime and as early as 1913 the first film version of his work appeared with The Pickwick Papers. Today there are a least two hundred motion pictures and tv adaptations based on his works. So for the bicentenary, the first question on everyone's lips was, what adaptations will be made? Well, besides the dueling Miss Havishams, for my money, I think Gillian Anderson might be able to beat Helena Bonham Carter in a fight, we had an adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, as well as the biopic staring Ralph Fiennes slated for early 2013, missing the centenary there Ralph. While not as heavy as in past years, Dickens is a major tent pole for the BBC with its previous star studded adaptations, Bleak House being the most raved about.

Yet, as Ralph Fiennes shows, we have even gone beyond just dramatizing Dickens's works, we are now dramatizing the man himself. Simon Callow has gained a bit of notoriety playing Dickens, much like Hal Holbrook and Mark Twain. Callow has not only played Dickens several times on stage and screen, notably on Doctor Who, in my mind, he has also written a book on Dickens, because Dickens transcends all boundaries of media. Dickens will continue to live on through many mediums, besides the written word. Now is the time to gather your family together, sit back and watch a few Dickensian adaptations, to capture that perfect holiday mood. Might I interest you in a Duck as the protagonist?


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