How Dickens invented the language of cinema
With the arrival of the world on the capital's doorstep craving red telephone boxes, drizzle and scones, it's time to roll out the cultural blockbusters.
And with a confluence of circumstance and need that was the hallmark of a Charles Dickens' story, 2012 also sees the bicentennial of the author's birth.
It was the reason scholars, film buffs, curators, Sir Derek Jacobi and David "One Day" Nicholls gathered at the BFI Southbank to launch the Dickens On Screen season that runs from January to March.
BFI creative director Heather Stewart said: "When we think of Dickens' extraordinary characters and nail-biting cliffhangers, it is not surprising he's the most adapted author of all time."
This, unlike many a twist in the maestro's canon, is not a coincidence. Many commentators have pointed out that Dickens use of parallel narratives, juxtaposition and visual storyboarding invented the language of cinema.
For it is through the prism of the screen - as co-curator and Film London CEO Adrian Wootton said - that most people see Dickens. Their favourite memories are often culled from favourite films rather than favourite passages.
The idea, to be explored in an accompanying BBC Arena documentary (premiered at the BFI on December 15), sets the scene for the three-month exploration of the 100 or so years of Dickensian adaptations from the surviving silent snippets through the David Lean-inspired golden age of the 1940s on to the influence of TV costume dramas.
Mr Wootton said: "We have put together the season not just on the basis of chronology or trying to plot that long history but also we're looking at a particular premise about Dickens and his influence on the creation of cinema and cinema language."
It was a theme taken up by David Nicholls, who cited Great Expectations as his favourite book and Dickens his essential author.
As he spoke at the launch last Thursay, director Mike Newell was filming Nicholls' adaptation of the masterwork which he said was "faithful" but accentuated plotlines that others had bypassed, including, he revealed, an alternative ending that drew from the two endings Dickens' wrote but was different to both.
He said he was offered Great Expectations after adapting Tess Of The d'Urbervilles.
"Initially I said 'no'. As has been pointed out, Great Expectations is a near perfect work of art and has also been made into a film many consider to be the greatest ever.
"It seemed there were two strong reasons not to get involved. But I watched the David Lean film and re-read the book and I found the book overwhelming, funny, exciting and nimble; it has the fewest coincidences and Dickens is at his best with his characterisation.
"So I took it on and it's been a wonderful experience. Dickens' characterisation is superb, he writes dialogue with tremendous humour, bounce and pace.
"Inevitably turning a 500-page novel into a 120-minute film means you have to leave things out but the novel is full of twists and turns and we're approaching it very much as a thriller."
Sir Derek Jacobi, also a Dickens 2012 patron, said he had many encounters with the author, not only in classics such as Little Dorrit but as Dickens himself in The Riddle, a Victoria Wood sketch and "I also did a rather bizarre Sony advert where I was Scrooge-cum-Father Christmas".
OTHER DICKENS EVENTS
Dickens And London
Museum Of London
December 9 - June 10
Recreating the atmosphere of Victorian London through sound and projections, you'll be taken on a haunting journey to discover the city that inspired his writings.
Go to museumoflondon.org.uk
A Hankering After Ghosts
November 29 - March 4
This free exhibition explores the many ways in which Dickens uses supernatural phenomena in his works, placing them in the context of his time.
Go to bl.uk