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The Ten Best Charles Dickens Movies


The Invisible Woman casts a light on the private life of Charles Dickens, showing the beloved author to be, actually, a bit of a wrong'un, indulging in affairs and treating his poor wife like rubbish.

That said, you can't deny the man could spin a yarn. Dickens' stories have been adapted almost countless times for stage, TV and film. He's been most difficult to capture on film, given his love for huge casts and supporting characters that nobody wants to cut, but these are the ten films that did Dickens proud.

10. Great Expectations (2012)

Mike Newell's recent adaptation of perhaps Dickens' best-loved work was a lush, perfectly cast take on the rise and fall and rise again of Pip Pirrip. There is nothing to really criticise about it. The only problem is that there have been so many adaptations of Great Expectations, many of them on TV, that as a very straight adaptation with no original take on the story, it offered no compelling reason to exist.

9. A Tale Of Two Cities (1935)

A great novel doesn't necessarily make a great movie. A Tale of Two Cities, set in London and Paris in the lead up to the French Revolution, doesn't have a central character as compelling as Oliver, Pip or David Copperfield. Of the handful of film adaptations there have been this is the most absorbing, but it's still a better read than a watch.

8. A Christmas Carol (2009)

Robert Zemeckis put his beloved motion-capture tools to work on this rather sinister Christmas Carol, enabling Jim Carrey to play not only Ebeneezer Scrooge but each of the Christmas ghosts. It gets points for bringing out the darker elements of the story - the ghost of Jacob Marley, with his flapping, disconnected jaw, is particularly creepy - although there is still that distracting issue of this type of animation looking almost real but not quite, making it a little bit lifeless.

7. Mickey's Christmas Carol

Kind of a cheat, because at 26 minutes it's technically a short, but it was released in cinemas, so we're having it. Scrooge McDuck obviously takes the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge, with beloved Disney characters making up the rest of the cast. The animation is beautiful and the Disney humour marries well with Dickens' story, but it's also surprisingly keen to scare. Probably not frightening if you're over six.

6. A Christmas Carol (1951)

Widely regarded as the best direct adaptation of A Christmas Carol, this succeeds mainly thanks to Alastair Sim's performance in the lead role. He's a venal but deep-down lovable Scrooge. Given its age, it looks a little creeky, but it's the right mix of ghost story and festive cheer. Avoid the colourised version, which looks all wrong and nowhere near as charming as the black-and-white original.

5. Oliver!

An all-singing, all-dancing tale of death and poverty and crime! What fun! There are many cheesy elements to this musical version of the poor street urchin who just wants a family - the poor seem awfully smiley and clean - but the songs are memorable and many of the performances, particularly Ron Moody (completely over the top but getting away with it) and Oliver Reed as a glowering Bill Sykes, are exceptional. It's far too cheery to dislike.

4. David Copperfield (1935)

David Copperfield hasn't had many outings on the big screen, the sweeping story of Copperfield's beleaguered life getting more room to breathe on TV, but this George Cukor version makes exceptional work of condensing the story down to just over two hours. Full of enthusiastic turns from 'big' actors, particularly W.C. Fields as Mr. Micawber, it's a proper Sunday afternoon watch.

3. Oliver Twist (1948)

David Lean had a wonderful way with Dickens novels. More than anyone else he captured the isolation of the heroes' lives, the frightened boys looking vulnerably tiny against his signature huge landscapes. There are valid criticisms of Alec Guinness going way too far with his Jewish caricature take on Fagin, but in almost every other area Lean gets it right, making a grubby, threatening world for his innocent orphan.

2. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

It's not what you'd call literary, but who gives a stuff when it's this much fun? This is a Muppet movie first and foremost, and a very good one, with catchy songs and sterling work from Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat. But amidst Miss Piggy's giant strops and the singing mice it actually gets in all of Dickens' story. Unquestionably the most joyous version of any Dickens novel.

1. Great Expectations (1946)

It couldn't have been anything else at number one. Just wrestling the enormity of Great Expectations into a manageable film is feat enough, with all those supplementary characters to take care of, but Lean created a beautifully shot version with an enveloping atmosphere. From Magwitch's cemetery introduction to Martita Hunt's ghostly Miss Havisham, everything about Lean's film is considered definitive. Even nearly 70 years on, any new version of Great Expectations is judged against this, and always found inferior.



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