Scrooge/A Christmas Carol (Brian Desmond Hurst, 1951)

Alastair Sim and Mervyn Johns as Scrooge and Cratchit
Alastair Sim and Mervyn Johns as Scrooge and Cratchit

As promised, here’s my review of the 1951 Scrooge, which was the winner in the Movie Classics poll for people’s favourite adaptation. At heart, A Christmas Carol is a ghost story. Some productions almost lose sight of that, amid all the cosy family scenes and picturesque snowscapes. However, the great 1951 British film starring Alastair Sim – known as Scrooge in the UK and A Christmas Carol in the US – keeps to the spirit of the original text, and gives us all the haunted darkness of the story, as well as the wild happiness of its ending. Screenwriter Noel Langley, who went on to script and direct The Pickwick Papers the following year, clearly had a gift for adapting Dickens.

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The Pickwick Papers (Noel Langley, 1952)

pickwickpapersMy Dickens in December season is getting properly under way with this review – come back tomorrow for another posting! Compressing an enormous, rambling book like Dickens’ Pickwick Papers into a single film of under two hours sounds like a daunting task. But director and screenwriter Noel Langley did a great job in his 1952 film, and really captured the exuberant, improvised flavour of this young man’s novel. Sadly, as in most Dickens adaptations, there is no narrator – but Langley’s dialogue keeps the rhythms of Dickens and many witty lines are there intact.

James Hayter as Pickwick and Nigel Patrick as the charming swindler Mr Jingle head up a wonderful British cast. Patrick simply IS Jingle – whenever I return to the book from now on, I’m sure I will hear his voice. Added to this, Wilkie Cooper’s black-and-white cinematography, Frederick Pusey’s art direction and Beatrice Dawson’s Oscar-nominated costumes make a stunning combination – often feeling almost as if Phiz’s famous illustrations have come to life. Although director Langley was South African-born and had worked in America, the film feels very English. It was made at Nettlefold Studios in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, and features some unmistakably English scenery.

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