Charles Dickens is arguably one of the most well-known names in classic literature and his work is loved worldwide amongst readers of all generations and backgrounds. He was one of the Victorian era's most celebrated writers, and his novels were generally a social critique of that period in history.
His stories and the characters within them have played a major part in shaping childhood's, often feauturing in the school curriculum or being a favourite choice for a bed-time story by parents.
There have been over 400 film and TV adaptations to date – no other author has had their work adapted as much, nor has their work received such popular and wide-spread acclaim. Did you know that A Christmas Carol is the most adapted novel ever!
It’s the mix of endearing, loveable characters alongside equally despised characters, combined with moving tragedy blended with impeccably placed humour that makes these stories so popular – and timeless. Equally, some of the screen adaptations have become just as popular and recognisable, with many associating the tale with a particular adaptation and we are certain these will be just as love and familiar in years to come.
It’s an unspoken rule in British culture that a personal DVD collection should have at least one adaptation of every Dickens novel. With so much choice available, we know it can be difficult to the title that deserves a spot on your shelf so we’re giving you a helping hand.
Here is our pick of the eight best Charles Dickens screen adaptations available on DVD that will continue to be cherished for generations to come.
This warm and memorable 1968 musical adaptation of the much-loved Oliver Twist went on to win 6 six prestigious Oscar’s including Best Picture and it’s no wonder.
Packed full of wonderful musical numbers and top-class performances, alongside a well-executed dark, yet thought-provoking narrative – this production will go from filling you with a warm, fuzzy feeling, to making you cry.
Starring Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, Oliver Reed and Harry Secombe in leading roles, but what makes this film so special is the fact it’s an ensemble cast with even the smaller actors giving brilliant performances.
Although the film is now 40 years old, it is enduring enough to be loved by your children, their children and we are sure, even their children too!
The 6 episodes of Joan Crafts version of the popular story, David Copperfield, that is set to remade again this year, are without question, worth owning and can be appreciated when watching together as a series, or as stand-alone episodes.
The combination of humour brought by Crafts direction and choice of supporting music, alongside the gritty story that stays unusually true to the original story and characters in comparison to other literary adaptations.
Subtitled “The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account)”, this is considered an autobiographical tale, told through the lens of fictional character ‘David Copperfield’.
Copperfield, a successful writer like Dickens, seemingly reflects upon his somewhat troubled childhood that resonates with his own - child exploitation and abuse at the hands of his stepfather who forces him to flee his beloved mother, a sadistic boarding school, handling grief and his journey to fulfilling his dreams of writing.
Dickens revealed this was the favourite of his own works and if that isn’t reason enough to watch this acclaimed series, the performance from David Yellend as David Copperfield, alongside an outstanding cast including Arthur Lowe, Patricia Routledge and Anthony Andrews, should be.
Scrooge / A Christmas Carol
Scrooge is the character who makes an appearance each Christmas that we all love to hate, and this 1951 production of Dickens’ most adapted novel is the only version you can watch over, and over, and over again.
This fully restored version presents the classic movie in the best visual and audio quality making it feel modern and easy to digest. A large part of this productions brilliance is down to the superb Alastair Sim (and the equally superb supporting cast), who gives us a flawless performance as the London miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, who helps him to realise the error of his ways through warnings from the spirits of the Christmas Past, Present and Future.
"This is easily the best screen version of the much-loved yuletide tale.... not to be missed." Radio Times
Set in Victorian London, young Richard Carstone (Patrick Kennedy) and Ada (Carey Mulligan), his cousin, are caught up in an endless legal case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce where their lives hang in limbo.
Lady Dedlock is cold and unruffled but she hides a dark secret. Esther and Mr John Jarndyce, the guardians of Richard and Ada hold the power to determine their lives forever if they aren’t prevailed by the predatory figures of establishment – crooked lawyers, dishonest boarding house owners, and dodgy debt collectors.
As the case concludes, the young cousins find that their fates are worlds apart. Love and lawsuits, mysteries and murder, hope amongst the heartbreak… will there be a happy ending?
What makes this 2005 BBC adaptation so unique and accessible is how it has been cleverly broken down into 15 short half hour episodes, rather than stuffing the story into one film like we have seen from most film and TV adaptations Dickens’ work.
The adaptation was written by the talented Andrew Davies and lovers of literature who are often cautious of watching their favourite stories televised, will be happy to know he has remained true and respectful to the original story.
The critically acclaimed series not only featured an all-star cast, including Gillian Anderson, Denis Lawson, Charles Dance and Johnny Vegas, it went onto win multiple BAFTAs including Best Drama Serial.
Dombey and Son
Paul Dombey is an emotionless, rigid, arrogant merchant, who becomes a widower two children when his wife dies shortly after giving birth to their youngest child, Paul who is the apple of his eye and hair to his business, Dombey and Son, and Florence, who he neglects, not considering her worthy of anything and no place in his firm.
His dreams of passing his business on to his son and perpetuating the companies name are shattered when Paul dies aged 6, pushing him to mistreat his daughter further out of anger, pain and resentment despite her best efforts of trying to win over her father’s love.
Despite the treatment from her father, Florence is concerned about his well-being and encourages him to take a trip where he meets Edith, also a widow, who he eventually remarries in what can only be described as a financial transaction.
Like many arranged marriages done for the wrong reasons, it is loveless. Dombey is a useless husband and his new wife hates him for it prompting her to run off with his business manager.
In typical Dombey style, he blames Florence for this, especially considering his hopes of being given another son to take over his business are crushed and he strikes her, forcing her to take the decision to run away and escape her father.
Karma comes back around to Dombey, abandoned by everyone. living in his decaying house and crippled by a burgeoning railway network. Florence on the other hand is flourishing – but will she forgive her father one last time?
Want some more Charles Dickens adaptations? Check out our complete collection here