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#289. Charles Dickens

Much like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens is one of the most adapted authors ever to have lived. While the number of adapted works of Dickens isn’t necessarily large, especially when compared against those of Philip K. Dick, the sheer number of times Dickens’ writing has been adapted is what gives him this distinction. One does have to wonder if the prolific amount of adaptations has to do with the singular fact that Dickens’ name caries a certain amount of gravitas with it. Of course, his writings have withstood the test of time, even if their original context and political satire might be lost on modern audiences. If anything, these adaptations may be the only exposure to Dickens most people will experience. While we’ll feel guilty about having not read The Pickwick Papers, at least we’d know what it was about. This week’s two films highlight some unique adaptations of Charles Dickens’ works.

Oliver!Oliver!
Year: 1968
Rating: G
Length: 153 minutes / 2.55 hours

When it comes to recognition from the Academy Awards, Dickens is definitely in the same class as Shakespeare. Both have had four of their adapted stories turned into films that won nominations for Best Picture. Both have had one of their stories win said Best Picture Oscar. Both aforementioned Best Pictures were also musicals. On Shakespeare’s side, we have Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935), Henry V (1944), and Julius Caesar (1953) as nominees and West Side Story (1961) as Best Picture (with Romeo and Juliet being nominated in 1936 and 1968 as well). In terms of Dickens’ achievements, there’s David Copperfield (1935), A Tale of Two Cities (1935), and Great Expectations (1946) as nominees and Oliver! (1968) as Best Picture. The fact that the 1960’s saw two literary musical adaptations win Best Picture merely shows you what kind of decade it really was.

To quote another famous, musical orphan, Oliver Twist (Mark Lester) had a “Hard Knock Life”. Shuffled from an orphanage to the service of an undertaker, the young boy finally escapes and travels to London to start a new life. Because he has no family or connections in London, Oliver is soon taken in by a gang of thieves and pickpockets. While he doesn’t necessarily want to commit these crimes, he still needs to eat. After he’s accused of stealing a wallet from a Mr. Brownlow (Joseph O’Conor), a bookseller comes to Oliver’s rescue with the truth of his innocence. Partly because Oliver reminds him of his niece, Brownlow decides to take Oliver home with him. Despite the luxury Oliver now finds himself in, his past acquaintances kidnap him and attempt to bring him back into a life of crime. The golden heart of a barmaid is the only piece of hope Oliver has of being saved.

The Muppet Christmas CarolThe Muppet Christmas Carol
Year: 1992
Rating: G
Length: 85 minutes / 1.41 hours

Just like we’ve seen a huge amount of Romeo and Juliet retellings, there have been plenty of versions of A Christmas Carol. I would wager that any holiday-themed story will be retold as long as that holiday remains relevant. Heck, even if it’s not relevant, people will continue to “celebrate” by reading or watching these stories. From watching Groundhog Day (1993) on Groundhog Day, to Independence Day (1996) on the Fourth of July, to V for Vendetta (2006) on Guy Fawkes Day, there are plenty of obscure holidays to celebrate with a movie. But Christmas always takes the cake in terms of holiday-themed adaptations. Of these adaptations, none is more recognizable than Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Because it is such a timeless story, it has been reproduced in a large number of mediums, including puppetry (as seen in The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)).

Narrated by Charles Dickens (Gonzo the Great), The Muppet Christmas Carol follows Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine), a miserly old man who has pushed everyone close to him away. Because the following day is Christmas, Scrooge’s employee, Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog), asks for all the bookkeepers to get the holiday off. After begrudgingly agreeing to Cratchit’s terms, Scrooge arrives at his home and spends the night alone only to be awoken by the ghosts of his past: Jacob and Robert Marley (Waldorf and Statler). They warn him that his current path will lead to his demise. To emphasize the point, three more spirits visit him in the night and show him what once was, what could be, and what is to come. Gradually, Scrooge realizes the error of his ways and wakes up the next day full of the Christmas spirit.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Dickens adaptations

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