It’s only fitting that the 200 year anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth takes place during our dreary last days of August. (Melbourne’s winters can feel so Dickensian you expect orphans to fall from the sky.) ACMI’s contribution to this cultural celebration comes in the form of three days of big screen Dickens adaptations.
Dickens was famous not only for his writing, but for his public readings of the same. Melbourne-born actor Phil Zachariah continues this proud tradition. His performances as Dickens, in turn performing A Christmas Carol, have earned him acclaim both here and on a recent European tour. We asked him about his favourites of these films: 1935’s A Tale of Two Cities and 1946’s Great Expectations.
“Certainly they’re made through the filter of the film-makers’ times,” he says, “but they’re still wonderful representations of the books.” Zachariah praises the look of Tale: “For a Hollywood costume drama of that period, it’s strangely honest. The grubbiness, the venality and contempt of the different classes in France come straight from Dickens’ knack for finding the human flaws in all. Rathbone [as Marquis St. Evremonde] could give a master class in villainy.”
He notes that Great Expectations also resists “tidying up” Dickens’ complicated characters. “For example, when Pip becomes spoiled and selfish it frustrates the hell out of me – but in a good way. I find myself so much more engaged than in other period movies of that time. And Magwitch and Miss Havisham burn themselves into the memory.”
If you can’t attend a reading of Dickens’ work, let Hollywood show you his stories instead.