Today I decided it was the day to sit down and immerse myself in the wonderful world of Dickens on screen. Encouraged by the success I had with The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, I was looking forward to watching David Copperfield and The Old Curiosity Shop. Perhaps I hoped too much.
David Copperfield (2000) started with an overly dramatic melody that seemed to try too hard to set the mood for the coming story. Having gotten a taste of the wonderful acting in Nicholas Nickleby, I was hoping for more of the same. Sadly, it was not meant to be. The acting seemed too theatrical and stiff, the characters uninspiring and after one hour I just decided to give up watching it. I couldn’t help laughing watching Michael Richards (who will forever be associated in my mind with the role of Kramer he played in Seinfeld) who just seemed odd in the role of Mr. Wilkins Micawber, as did Sally Field who portrayed Aunt Betsey Trotwood. Maybe I just picked the wrong version to watch.
The Old Curiosity Shop (2007) was better. The story of young Nell and her grandfather trying to escape from the hands of the greedy creditor, Mr. Quilp, was a little more interesting. Derek Jacobi (who also played a part in Gladiator) in the role of the grandfather, and Toby Jones (acted in The Hunger Games) in the role of Quilp, were the most interesting characters to watch. Extra points go to the latter for giving an excellent performance of a greedy, disgusting, manipulative character.
After watching two and a half (well, almost half) movies based on Charles Dickens’s novels, to which I can add Great Expectations (even if that was years ago), it all seems like a formula to me: a funeral, a wedding, a chief villain, suffering children, the mysterious benefactor and various kind hearted characters here and there. There is the forever bleak London in which gray seems to be the predominant color, the persistent mud, and the accent which can be a challenge to understand at times.
Great Expectations is the only Dickens novel I have read so far. I remember watching the movie (the 1998 version starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow), thinking it was great, then reading the book and thinking the movie was awful by comparison, then watching the movie again years later and thinking it wasn’t too bad. Mrs. Havisham (or Ms. Dinsmoor in this version) was by far my favorite character. Apart from her brilliant performance, what I remember most from it was the dusty, desolate house and one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in a movie. That song is imprinted in my memory – it still gives me goose bumps when I listen to it.
Perhaps it’s too hard to expect from a movie the same depth of feeling a book can give, the emotions, the carefully placed words that can mean so much in a story. Perhaps it calls for a deeper understanding of Dickens’ fictional world to fully appreciate the movie. Perhaps one day, after reading the books and watching the movies again, I will be able to see them with different eyes. Perhaps. As of today, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby and Great Expectations remain my favorites.