On July 21st, a small but enthusiastic crowd of Dickensians in Salem, MA did its part to combat the growing scourge of boring Dickens.
And how do you spell boring Dickens? Easy, it’s a three letter word: BBC. And, of course, let’s not forget its American partner in crime: PBS.
The Salem gathering provided an opportunity to set aside the usual Dickensian Greatest Hits and view three productions that are definitely off the beaten path: an excellent clay animation version of The Chimes, the only extant adaptation of Dickens’s second Christmas Book; the newly rediscovered London by Dickens starring a very young Alan Bates; and Ray Bradbury’s delightful Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby is a Friend of Mine.
The point here is really a question: Why do the powers that be in the worlds of film and television continue to recycle the same Dickensian fare over and over and over again when so much of the Dickens canon remains untouched for decades or, in some cases, has never been touched at all.
I attempted to deal with this issue at length in my November 6, 2011 article entitled An Open Letter to Hollywood and the BBC. Please check it out and see if you don’t share some of my outrage and bewilderment.
So what’s a Dickensian to do? I would respectfully suggest a two-pronged approach to the problem.
First of all, why not write to the BBC (and PBS) and tell them that we are sick to death of the self-congratulatory hot air surrounding its recent efforts. Yes, Edwin Drood was welcome, but did we really need yet another Great Expectations when there has never been a film or television adaptation of The Battle of Life or The Haunted Man?
And secondly, as we embark on the second half of this exciting bicentenary year, why not give those Greatest Hits a rest and dig a little deeper into the existing body of Dickens adaptations.
For a little while at least, forget Alastair Sim and the David Lean masterpieces and check out Monogram’s ambitious take on Oliver Twist or Universal’s equally ambitious Great Expectations.
And let’s give the great Ronald Colman a little vacation and see what Dirk Bogarde and William Farnum or Maurice Costello can bring to the table as Sydney Carton.
And notwithstanding the sheer cosmic brilliance of W. C. Field’s presence in MGM’s David Copperfield, doesn’t a giant like Ralph Richardson deserve a hearing as Wilkins Micawber?
So that, from the for what it’s worth department, is my solution to the problem. Just one more thing: I would like to propose a minimum five year (ideally ten year) moratorium on new versions of A Christmas Carol in the hope that this hiatus might inspire some enterprising producer to finally “do something” with The Battle of Life and The Haunted Man.
Anyone care to sign a petition?
NOTE: While I definitely felt that I was among kindred spirits at the Salem event mentioned above, I should make clear that the views expressed in this article are my own and do not necessarily reflect the position of the North of Boston Branch of the Dickens Fellowship which sponsored the show.