March 2012 | Nate Pedersen

Earliest Dickens Film Discovered

If you're like me, you find yourself glued to the television every Sunday night when Masterpiece Theater is on.  And this year, as befits the 200th anniversary of his birth, is the year of Dickens.  So Masterpiece just recently wrapped up encore presentations of Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop.  And later this spring will see new adaptations of Great Expectations and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (which I'm particularly looking forward to).

So it's the perfect year for this bit of news to come out of the BBC: the earliest film based on Dickens's work was recently found in the archive at the British Film Institute.  The one-minute silent film from 1901, entitled "The Death of Poor Jo," is an adaptation of the famous scene in Bleak House.  You can watch it here:

The film is being attributed to G. A. Smith, a pioneering British filmmaker, who also made the now second oldest adaptation of Dickens: "Scrooge, or Marley's Ghost," from The Christmas Carol.  You can watch that comparatively epic three-minute film here:

The BFI tells us that before the invention of sound in film there were already about 100 adaptations of Dickens work from around the world.  If you're not yet tired of scratchy film and theatrical gestures, you can watch a cool compendium of these Dickens films here:

If, on the other hand, you are now longing for glossy, modern adaptations, here is the trailer for the upcoming Great Expectations, which will air on Masterpiece on April 1: