Charles Dickens on silent film: part two, BFI Southbank, February 2012

Jackie Coogan as Oliver Twist
Jackie Coogan as Oliver Twist

Charles Dickens’s 200th birthday party continues in formidable style with the second part of the BFI’s Dickens on Screen season. Happily, the silents were not confined to the first run of screenings and February brings much to get excited about. First off is the famous 1922 adaptation of Oliver Twist. Frank Lloyd directs, while The Kid star Jackie Coogan plays the young orphan and Lon Chaney contorts his features into a suitably grotesque Fagin. With Coogan’s winsome pluck and Chaney’s gift for playing a villain, this was always going to be a classic Twist. It’s a spirited romp through the novel and a particular treat as this is one of the famous “lost” films of the silent era, which was found and restored in the 1970s, with some input from Coogan himself. To learn more, read Silent Volume’s appreciative review here or watch this clip, featuring one of the novel’s most melodramatic flourishes. Why not do both?

Oliver Twist screens at 6pm on Friday 3 February and at 8.45pm on Wednesday 8 February 2012 at NFT2, BFI Southbank. Both screenings will feature live piano accompaniment. Tickets are available from the BFI website.

The Only Way (1925)
The Only Way (1927)

The final silent Dickens film and the next screening in the season is The Only Way, a lavish and rather free adaptation of The Tale of Two Cities. This is a British production and John Martin Harvey reprises his stage role as Sydney Carton, despite his advancing years. His wife Madge Stuart plays Mimi his maid. Don’t remember Mimi from the novel? That’s cinematic licence for you. The famous director and producer Herbert Wilcox is at the helm and The Only Way was a smash hit, taking more than twice its £24,000 budget at the box office.

The Only Way screens at 3.50pm on Saturday 11 February and 8.40pm on Monday 27 February 2012 at BFI Southbank. Tickets are available from the BFI website.

• Don’t forget that there will be an exhibition to accompany the Dickens on Screen season in the Mezzanine at BFI Southbank from 12 January to 25 March. Also, during February, BFI members can watch The Pickwick Papers, an Anglo-American co-production from 1913, free online. The 15-minute fim stars the comedian John Bunny.

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