Charles Dickens in the Cinema: A Bicentennial Retrospective
February 3–April 9

With more than 300 film and television adaptations based on his work, it would seem Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is cinema's favorite novelist by a huge margin. Though Dickens didn't live to see the advent of the cinema, many of his books received successful stage adaptations during his lifetime, and many critics and filmmakers have remarked on the "cinematic" qualities in Dickens' narrative sensibility, descriptive power and penchant for abundant detail, most notably filmmaker and theorist Sergei Eisenstein in his influential 1944 essay "Dickens, Griffith and the Film Today." In honor of "Boz's" bicentennial, AFI Silver presents a selection of some of the best screen versions of Dickens' beloved books.


Director George Cukor ably marshals an all-star cast through a breezy retelling of Dickens' exhaustively detailed (opening line: "I am born"), semi-autobiographical bildungsroman. Freddie Bartholomew, in his screen debut, is the young David; Edna May Oliver his oddball Aunt Betsey Trotwood; Basil Rathbone his stern stepfather Mr. Murdstone, and Maureen O'Sullivan his first love, Dora; also featuring Lionel Barrymore as ne'er-do-well Dan Peggotty, TOPPER's Roland Young as the wily villain Uriah Heep and, in a bit of stunt casting, W. C. Fields as David's perennially broke pal Mr. Micawber, always waiting for "something to come up."

DIR George Cukor; SCR Howard Estabrook, from the novel by Charles Dickens; PROD David O. Selznick. US, 1935, b&w, 130 min. NOT RATED


Fri, Feb 3, 5:10; Sun, Feb 5, 11:00 a.m.


"It's a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It's a far, far greater rest I go to than I have ever known." Dissolute, devil-may-care Sydney Carton (Ronald Colman, in a signature role) goes from rake to saint, making the most noble of self-sacrifices to help his friends caught on the wrong side of revolutionary fervor in France during the Reign of Terror. A key film for MGM producer David O. Selznick, soon to strike out as an independent in the pursuit of even more lavish, epic spectaculars.

DIR Jack Conway; SCR W. P. Lipscomb, S. N. Behrman, from the novel by Charles Dickens; PROD David O. Selznick. US, 1935, b&w, 128 min. NOT RATED


Sat, Feb 4, 1:10; Mon, Feb 6, 8:45


David Lean delivered arguably the finest of all Dickens screen adaptations. Orphan lad Pip (Anthony Wager) struggles to get by until an unknown benefactor provides him a generous allowance. Along the way, there's an encounter with escaped convict Magwitch (Finlay Currie) on the foggy moors; etiquette lessons in the crumbling mansion of mad Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt), where he meets the lovely but cruel Estella (Jean Simmons) and best pal Herbert Pocket (Alec Guinness); and finally adventures in London as a young man on the move (now played by John Mills). Nominated for five Oscars, with wins for Cinematography and Art Direction.

DIR/SCR David Lean; SCR Anthony Havelock-Allan, Cecil McGivern, Kay Walsh, from the novel by Charles Dickens; SCR/PROD Ronald Neame. UK, 1945, b&w, 118 min. NOT RATED


Tue, Feb 7, 7:00; Sat, Feb 11, 12:15


"Please sir, I want some more." Orphan Oliver Twist (John Howard Davies, "still perhaps the most memorable and affective Oliver yet seen on screen" — David Parker, BFI) runs away from workhouse drudgery for life on the London streets, exhilarating but dangerous, and falls in with a gang of young pickpockets, including the happy-go-lucky Artful Dodger (Anthony Newley), trained by a Mephistophelean ringleader, the charismatic Fagin (Alec Guinness). David Lean, working with his Oscar-winning collaborators from GREAT EXPECTATIONS, crafts another high-water mark in Dickens adaptations.

DIR/SCR David Lean; SCR Stanley Haynes, from the novel by Charles Dickens; PROD Ronald Neame. UK, 1948, b&w, 116 min. NOT RATED


Thu, Feb 9, 7:00; Sun, Feb 12, 12:15


Alberto Cavalcanti's Ealing Studios adaption of Dickens' third novel is notable for its gritty visuals, depicting Victorian life with the contemporary cinematic styles of neorealism and film noir. His father dead and prospects dim, young Nicholas Nickleby (Derek Bond) must rely on his wealthy but wicked Uncle Ralph (Sir Cedric Hardwicke). A teaching post at the prison-like Dotheboys Hall in Yorkshire, run by vicious Wackford Squeers (Alfred Drayton) ends in violent confrontation, Nicholas fleeing with his friend Smike (Aubrey Woods) and returning to London just in time to defend his sister Kate (Sally Ann Howes) from Uncle Ralph's predations.

DIR Alberto Cavalcanti; SCR John Dighton, from the novel by Charles Dickens; PROD Michael Balcon. UK, 1947, b&w, 108 min. NOT RATED


Sat, Mar 31, 11:00 a.m.; Mon, Apr 2, 4:45; Tue, Apr 3, 9:05


Noel Langley's film adaptation of Charles Dickens' charmingly episodic first novel on the misadventures of the Pickwick Club and their travels around England is full of wit, warmth and comedy, distinguished by the sharp photography of Wilkie Cooper and careful attention to detail in sets and costumes (earning an Oscar nomination for the latter). The wonderful cast of British character actors includes James Hayter as Pickwick, James Donald as Winkle and Nigel Patrick as Mr. Jingle, plus Joyce Grenfell, Donald Wolfit, Hermione Gingold and Hermione Baddeley.

DIR/SCR/PROD Noel Langley, from the novel by Charles Dickens; PROD George Minter. UK, 1952, b&w, 109 min. NOT RATED


Sun, Apr 1, 11:00 a.m.; Mon, Apr 2, 9:05; Wed, Apr 4, 4:20


Dashing Dirk Bogarde assays the Sydney Carton role in this underrated screen adaptation, boasting formidable villains in Christopher Lee as the haughty Marquis St. Evremonde, Donald Pleasence as the treacherous John Barsad and Rosalie Crutchley as the bitter, bloody-minded Madame Defarge.

DIR Ralph Thomas; SCR T. E. B. Clarke, from the novel by Charles Dickens; PROD Betty E. Box. UK, 1958, b&w, 117 min. NOT RATED


Sat, Apr 7, 11:00 a.m.; Sun, Apr 8, 11:00 a.m.; Mon, Apr 9, 7:00