DAVID NICHOLLS: DICKENS WAS AN ENTERTAINER
From the POV of a bestseller* and screenwriter** Nicholls was the only author to raise class as a defining preoccupation of Dickens. In turn, a kind of snobbery survives in interpretations of Dickens today; somehow Dickens’ entertainment value, his irrepressible humour, is still a bone of contention.
When it comes to adapting the novels, losing the narrative voice is a thorn in the side of Dickens-nuts; a screenplay just doesn’t provide for what people think. Instead, character and plot – Dickens’ iffier bits, perhaps – take precedence, and require some cleaning up by the screenwriter. The script for a film is, however, an instruction manual for the director/actors; ‘scriptwriting is not a literary form’. Whereas TV serialisation allows for baggy plots and diversions, a film has tight structural requirements (except DN recommends this outstanding and whopping 6hr version of Little Dorrit a film in two parts).
But Dickens gave the green light for adaptations after all, bowdlerising stories for dramatic effect at his own public readings.
*Yes, One Day had the highest sales at the seminar, ahead of Claire Tomalin’s Dickens: A Life.
**Great Expectations the movie is released in October 2012.