British Cinema of the 1950s: A Celebration

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A Tale of Two Cities
and the Cold War

ROBERT GIDDINGS

There was probably never a book by a great humorist, and an artist so
prolific in the conception of character, with so little humour and so few
rememberable figures. Its merits lie elsewhere. (John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens (1872))

RALPH T HOMAS' S A Tale of Two Cities of 1958 occupies a secure if modest place among that bunch of 1950s British releases based on novels by Dickens, including Brian Desmond Hurst's Scrooge (1951) and Noel Langley's The Pickwick Papers (1952). 1 When all the arguments about successfully filming Dickens are considered it must be conceded that his fiction offers significant qualities that appeal to film-makers: strong and contrasting characters, fascinating plots and frequent confrontations and collisions of personality. In unsuspected ways, Ralph Thomas's film is indeed one of the best film versions of a Dickens novel and part of this rests upon the fact that, as Dickens's novels go, A Tale of Two Cities is unusual. Dickens elaborately works up material in this novel which must have been marinating in his imagination. Two themes stand out: the dual personality, the doppelgänger or alter ego; and mob behaviour when public order collapses. Several strands come together. Dickens had voluminously researched the Gordon Riots which were, up to then, the worst public riots in British history. Charles Mackay's Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1845)

____________________
I am Professor Emeritus in the School of Media Arts, Bournemouth University. My schooling was interrupted by polio, but I was very well educated by wireless, cinema and second-hand books. As an undergraduate in Bristol in the 1950s I spent more time in film societies and flea-pits than in class. This cultural irresponsibility has continued and been complicated by TV and video. I have written for New Society, Tribune, The Listener and New Statesman and Society on film and media, and published The Changing World of Charles Dickens (Vision Press, 1984); with Chris Wensley and Keith Selby, Screening the Novel (Palgrave, 1992); The War Poets (Bloomsbury, 1998); and with Keith Selby, The Classic Serial on Television and Radio (Palgrave, 2001). I am a devout and practising Dickensian: my Student Guide to Charles Dickens was published in 2002 by Greenwich Exchange. Robert Giddings

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