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Did Charles Dickens Write the Script for Cinema?

Date posted: 07.12.2011

Arena: Dickens on Film is a new documentary from the BBC, co-produced with Film London, exploring the contribution that Charles Dickens has made to the history of film and television. It will premiere at BFI Southbank on Thursday 15 December, as part of the BFI's Dickens on Screen season celebrating Dickens inspired film and television.

Part of Dickens 2012, the international campaign to mark the 200th anniversary of the novelist's birth, Arena: Dickens on Film investigates how the Victorian master influenced the very creation of cinematic language and argues that the author had a more significant impact on it than any of his predecessors or contemporaries, asking if Dickens can be credited with writing the script for cinema as we know it.

Following its premiere, the 60-minute documentary will be transmitted on BBC Four in January 2012, an element of Dickens on the BBC, a season of documentary, drama and discussion programmes across television and radio.

Produced by the award-winning arts strand Arena, the film considers that it is not only the stories, themes and characters of Dickens's writing which translate so well onto screen, but that he wrote the way a camera saw before film had even been invented.

Arena: Dickens on Film
revisits films and interviews from the archive to answer the question: why have Dickens's novels inspired so many hundreds of adaptations on screen?

The master of early film-making Sergei Eisenstein argued that there is something essentially filmic in Dickens's unique prose style: "Dickens's nearness to the characteristics of cinema in method, style, and especially in viewpoint and exposition, is amazing".

Dickens's rapid 'cutting' within scenes and from scene to scene, coupled with his seamless mixture of the bizarrely comic with the terrifyingly profound was itself proto-cinematic. Arena: Dickens on Film pushes that argument further and suggests Dickens's writing formed the very DNA on which cinema is based and that is demonstrated by how much Dickens influenced great pioneers of cinema, such as Eisenstein, Charles Chaplin and D.W. Griffith.

Directed by BBC Arena's Series Editor, Anthony Wall, Arena: Dickens on Film is a co-production between the BBC and Film London produced by Adrian Wootton, Chief Executive of Film London, and written and narrated by Wootton and Michael Eaton. Wootton and Eaton have also co-curated Dickens on Screen, a comprehensive season of film and TV adaptations which will run January-March 2012 at BFI Southbank.


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