Adrian Wootton: Great Expectations for Dickens 2012

The co-director of the festival on the author's enduring popularity, and what stories he would like to see adapted

'Dickens would have been the ultimate blogger,' says Adrian Wootton, chief executive of Film London, co-director of Dickens 2012 and lifelong Dickens fan. 'He would have out-tweeted Stephen Fry. The Dickens's brand would have been even bigger than it already is.'

Wootton, who will be giving a talk at Queen's Film Theatre on March 27 onCharles Dickens's enduring filmic popularity, points out that the modern world of Kickstarter projects and social networks isn't so far removed from Dickens's experience. The author just had a magazine instead of a blog and travelled to meet his fans in person instead of logging into a chatroom.

In a way, that is the core of Wootton's argument for why Dickens's continues to resonate with modern-day readers. Underneath the trappings of the period, the core ideas and themes are familiar ones: crime, child poverty, financial chicanery (Dickens would, Wootton says, sympathise with the Occupy movement), love and matters of social and moral justice.

'Dickens was a radical and revolutionary,' Wootton says. 'He was a social campaigner, and his work hasn't dated. It is still hugely relevant to us today.'

Wootton was only eight or nine when he first read Great Expectations by Dickens and fell in love with the world, characters and high drama of the plot. That wasn't the start of his love-affair with the author's work though, that began when he was five and saw David Lean's adaptation of the same novel. It remains one of Wootton's favourite films

So, when he was approached four years ago to be co-director of the Dickens 2012 festival, he didn't hesitate to say yes.

'With Dickens 2012 I wanted to look back at Dickens legacy, curating a programme of great film adaptations,' Wootton says. 'But I also wanted to look forwards, commissioning new documentaries and contemporary adaptations that showcase Dickens's ongoing influence.'

There has always been something eminently performable about Dickens's work. Even before the advent of cinema, theatre companies would snatch up new work by the popular author. Often before Dickens had even finished writing it.

'His larger-than-life characters were born to be performed,' Wootton says. More than that though, his innovative plot structure and the power of his writing were perfectly suited to film adaptation. Pioneers of the film genre, such as DW Griffiths, used Dickens's novels as templates for their editing process. 'Dickens's cast a long shadow. He invented cinema, before cinema existed.'

Even today, Dickens is a perennial film favourite. Particularly, of course, in 2012. The BBC opened the year with director Brian Kirk's 3-part adaptation of Great Expectations. Another, adapted by David Nicholls, is due out later this year.

Wootton enjoyed Kirk's version - 'I loved Ray Winston as Magwitch.' - and is looking forward to seeing Helena Bonham-Carter as Miss Havisham. He would, however, love to see some of Dicken's lesser known works adapted for the screen.

'There are a lot of wonderful short stories by Dickens that haven't been tapped into,' he says. 'There are also novels that we haven't seen for a long time, such as Barnaby Rudge and Dombey and Son. Or some of his non-fiction work.'

In fact, Dickens in London, commissioned by Dickens 2012 and showing after Wottoon's talk, uses some of Dickens's short stories and journalistic writings. They were adapted in radio plays, and then film artist Chris Newby created a video backdrop to them using puppetry, animation and contemporary footage.

'It's really wonderful,' Wootton enthuses. 'I hope anyone who comes to hear me, stays to see it.'

Book tickets for Dickens at 200 or Dickens in London on the QFT website.

 

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