A Dickens of a day

A Dickens of a day

We cried, we cheered and we clapped (a bit), and then we cried some more. At 11.30 in the morning we set out with Nicholas, Kate and friends, plus a few enemies, on the wonderful journey that was (and, in one way, still is) the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. At my side (in the next seat but one) was co-director Sir Trevor Nunn, and he was still there nearly twelve hours and one panel discussion later. NFT3 at BFI Southbank is perhaps slightly less comfortable than I think the Aldwych Theatre was more than thirty one years ago, but did I care? June 1980 was when, on another magical Saturday, I first entered the world that Sir Trevor, co-director John Caird, adapter David Edgar and of course Charles Dickens had conjured up for me (and around a thousand others). That day was one of the great theatre experiences of my life, which I re-lived when Channel 4 showed its screen translation in late 1982 – and which I was engrossed by and felt angry with and thrilled and laughed and wept at once again yesterday.
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Nickleby & co

Nickleby & co

To BFI Southbank later for all eight hours of the Channel 4/Primetime version of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. I’ve said before that the stage production, seen over a Saturday in the Aldwych Theatre in the late summer of 1980, remains one of the defining theatrical experiences of my life. And the television adaptation that followed two years later, after the theatre show had enjoyed an extraordinary success, is also pretty good. But it’s a long time since I watched the whole thing, which is what I’m to do today – in addition to chairing a panel with co-directors Trevor Nunn and John Caird, writer David Edgar and David Threlfall, who was such a moving Smike. As the show was coming together, The South Bank Show secured good access to the rehearsals – and much (although frustratingly not all) of Andrew Snell’s documentary is on YouTube, in what appears to be an off-air recording. For this post I have gathered up the four sections and written a few notes on each.
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Catching up…

Catching up…

Yes, I’ve been super-busy – and, yes, I feel guilty about not posting here for nearly a fortnight. So let me construct a post about a few of the things we’re involved in and also about one or two new developments relating to previous posts. First up…

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby

One of the truly great coming togethers of theatre and television is the 1982 Primetime/Channel 4 adaptation of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Dickens dramatisation. The day-long immersion in its world at the Aldwych thirty years ago remains one of defining theatrical experiences of my life (see here) – and a week on Saturday, 25 February, BFI Southbank offering a chance to re-live that in a way, with an all-day screening of the television version. There’s also a Q&A with co-directors Trevor Nunn and John Caird, writer David Edgar and actor David Threlfall (and me as moderator). The event has been sold out for weeks (it’s in the modestly proportioned NFT3) but a few tickets are back on sale – and if you are quick you might snap one up here. If not, watch out for the blog that will follow.
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Dickens delights and discoveries

Dickens delights and discoveries

To BFI Southbank for a most engaging day exploring small-screen adaptations of Charles Dickens. Three sessions throughout Saturday featured a host of fascinating clips and a number of engaging guests. In the morning, writer, curator and co-conceiver of the recent Arena: Dickens on Film Mick Eaton offered a lively lecture outlining the history of the author’s adaptations. (An earlier post enthused about Dickens on Film.) We saw the 1994 The Late Show: Who Framed Charles Dickens?, which was originally transmitted alongside the major Martin Chuzzlewit of that year. A panel of practitioners reflected on recent serials, and then at teatime the teatime Dickens of our childhoods were recalled by three of those who brought his books into our homes during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Across the jump are ten things I took from the day – ideas, people and programmes that I didn’t know about before and am happier for having learned about.
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Weekend links

Weekend links

Yes, my friends, this is another Dickens-themed post (following on from the recent What larks and The film of the films of the books). Or at least the start of it is, because across the jump there’s the usual collection of recent links to interesting and relatively random stuff. But in this first paragraph I want to draw your attention to Charles Dickens, filmmaker, which is a wonderful filmography compiled by The Bioscope of silent film adaptations of Dickens. This includes all sorts of intriguing films, a good number of which are available on DVD, most notably on the invaluable Dickens Before Sound DVD from the BFI. But the image above comes courtesy of the Danish Film Institute from the 1922 David Copperfield directed in Denmark by the Dickens specialist A. W. Sandberg, and there are further stills and clips if you follow the link.
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The film of the films of the books

The film of the films of the books

Headline: while The Mystery of Edwin Drood, part one of which we saw on BBC Two tonight, has much to recommend it, the television treat of the evening – and indeed most certainly of the year to date – was Arena: Dickens on Film. I’ll write more about this tomorrow, but let me record my immediate enthusiasm for a film that is imaginative, intelligent, distinctive and delightful as well as being, before all else, a film. Kudos to Arena and Film London for co-producing such a treasure, to the estimable Mick Eaton and Adrian Wootton for conceiving and achieving it, to some tremendous film research (and the confidence to allow the film extracts to have their own place and presence), and to D. W. Griffith, Alastair Sim, David Lean, W. C. Fields, Johnny Vegas, Sergei Eisenstein, John Mills, Hablot Knight Browne, Arena editor Anthony Wall (who also directs) – together with a few more – as well as the genius who was Charles Dickens.
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What larks

What larks

To BFI Southbank on Friday evening for two screenings in the wonderful Dickens on Screen season. First up was The Life and Adventures of Nicholas NicklebyAlberto Cavalcanti’s adaptation for Ealing released in 1947. After the briefest of breaks (no time even for a beer) I plunged into Great Expectations, directed in 1946 by David Lean. It’s a critical cliché that Great Expectations is considerably superior to Nickleby (as films) – and viewing them side by side did nothing to challenge the notion. But it was really revealing to see the former in the light of the RSC/Channel 4 version and the latter so soon after the exceptionally strong BBC series. The following handful of notes also includes a truly bizarre story about one of the scriptwriters of Great Expectations as well as a paragraph about an intriguing curiosity from 1949 that was also screened. This followed on from John Mills’ Pip thrillingly ripping down the curtains and letting in the sun to stop Estella (Valerie Hobson) becoming Miss Havisham – which of course is not at all what happens in the book.
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