What the Dickens?

200 years ago today, novelist Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth. He may have only lived for 58 years, but in that time he wrote books that have deservedly become classic works of literature – and some of them have been made into pretty good films, too.

To commemorate Dickens’ birthday, here are 10 of the best movie adaptations of his works (though not always the most faithful…)



This Oscar-winning 1968 musical version of Oliver Twist is a great way to introduce kids to the novel. Lionel Bart’s songs (Food Glorious Food, Consider Yourself, I’d Do Anything) are unforgettable, as are the performances from a cast that includes Oliver Reed and Ron Moody. Read the movies4kids review here and check out a clip below:


Oliver Twist

A more reverent treatment of the text, this 1948 movie from director David Lean is better for older children, as younger ones may find Alec Guinness’s portrayal of Fagin too scary. John Howard Davies is the orphaned Oliver, who falls in with a gang of pickpockets that includes Anthony Newley’s Artful Dodger. Check out my review here and this clip:


David Copperfield

The 1999 TV version of David Copperfield with Daniel Radcliffe is worth a look, especially if you’re studying the book for GCSEs or A-Level, but the best movie adaptation remains the 1935 film from director George Cukor. WC Fields stars as Micawber, while young David is played by Freddie Bartholomew as a child and Frank Lawton as an adult. Check out my review here, and below for a clip:


A Muppet Christmas Carol

There are hundreds of cinematic versions of A Christmas Carol, the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge and the three ghosts that visit him to show him Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come, but this is the one to show younger kids – and older ones for that matter. Michael Caine is superb as Scrooge, Kermit is his employee Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy is Mrs Cratchit and, best of all, Gonzo narrates the whole thing as Dickens himself. It’s a great introduction to a classic story, but if you want a more serious adaptation of the text, try Scrooge with Alastair Sim from 1951 (reviewed here) or the animated version starring Jim Carrey (reviewed here).

My review of A Muppet Christmas Carol is here, and check out the clip below:


Nicholas Nickleby

Writer/director Douglas McGrath, who also adapted Jane Austen’s Emma for the big screen, delivered a fun version of Dickens’ tale of Nicholas Nickleby, the young man who goes to London to seek his fortune following the death of his father. He becomes a tutor at the strict Dotheboys Hall in Yorkshire, but his adventures take him back to London, and back nz into the path of his evil uncle Ralph. Charlie Hunnam isn’t exactly who I’d picture as Nicholas, but the supporting cast is spot-on, including Jamie Bell as young friend Smike, Christopher Plummer as Ralph, and Nathan Lane and Barry Humphries as comic relief characters Vincent and Mrs Crummles. Have a look:


Bleak House

Forget the movie versions, the best adaptation is the 2005 BBC TV series, starring Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock, Charles Dance as Mr Tulkinghorn, Anna Maxwell Martin as Esther and Carey Mulligan as Ada. Filmed at Bromham Hall and Luton Hoo in Bedfordshire, and Ingatestone Hall in Essex, it’s a lavish production that includes many of the characters from the original novel, and one that went on to win two Emmys and the BAFTA for Best Drama Serial. And here it is:


Hard Times

Unfortunately, there isn’t a movie version of Dickens’ 10th novel that’s worth seeking out, but there is a 1994 BBC series that is pretty good. The book aimed to highlight the social and economic problems of the Victorian era, and takes place in a fictitious Northern mill town. It follows the lives of such characters as teacher Mr Gradgrind, mill owner Bounderby and worker Stephen Blackpool, who are played in the BBC series by Bob Peck, Alan Bates and Bill Paterson respectively.


Little Dorrit

The 1988 film of Little Dorrit is an impressive 360 minutes long, and was originally released in cinemas in two parts (each part still three hours long). Featuring the cream of British acting talent, including Derek Jacobi, Alec Guinness, Miriam Margolyes and Cyril Cusack, the film follows the rise and fall of the fortunes of the Dorrit family and their acquaintance, Arthur Clennam. Here’s a quick clip:


The Pickwick Papers

The 1952 film version of Dickens’ novel is a treat, and one that won a Best Costume Design Academy Award. James Hayter stars as Samuel Pickwick, who with a group of friends travels across England to report back on the interesting things they find and the many misadventures they have. Nigel Patrick and the wonderful Joyce Grenfell also star.


Great Expectations

First let me warn you to avoid the modern-day update of Great Expectations, starring Ethan Hawke (his character renamed Finn instead of Pip), Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert De Niro – it’s awful. Instead, the best adaptation of Dickens’ much-loved classic is the 1946 David Lean drama, starring John Mills as the young Pip, Finlay Currie as convict Magwitch, Martita Hunt as spinster Miss Havisham and Jean Simmons as the beautiful Estella. Do note that the ending is more uplifting than the one in the novel. Here’s a clip:


And Happy Birthday to Charles Dickens!