Wandered over to the Genesis Cinema in Mile End last night to see a showing of a lengthy documentary about Charles Dickens – specifically the places he lived in and how they influenced his writings. Narrated by Derek Jacobi, the film was a walking tour around the streets of his life, without my having the hassles of sore feet, traffic noise drowning out the tour guide, and a chance to listen to suitable people waxing lyrical about their homes.
Fortunately, the medium of film meant that the “walking tour” could range from Chatham to London, down to the Isle of Wight and up to Yorkshire before ending in Folkestone, all in just two hours.
Dickens being a bit of a tourist draw, it was evident that almost any association with the famous author is to be exploited by the venues where he can be linked to – even if by inferences, such as the office in Southampton that proudly boasted that the father of Charles Dickens worked there for a couple of years. I think that is pushing it a bit!
Also, as the film spent most of its time visiting such places, you can get a bit weary of the Dickens this, Dickens that, Dickens here, there and everywhere that the modern owners try to exploit. To be fair, the family did tend to move around a lot, so there are now a lot of building that can claim the “honour” of hosting the Dickens family, even if only for a few months.
Poor Derek Jacobi did seem a bit lost at the beginning of the film as well, particularly in a church that proudly boasts the presence of the “Dickens Font”, where he was baptized. The local vicar proudly unveiled the marvel with a grand flourish, and Derek stood there looking very much like he was a bit stumped as to why he had been dragged all the way out there to stand next to a water bowl. The film livened up though as we were taken to vastly more interesting places, and he pulled various books to read excerpts from.
I was personally particularly pleased to see that he visited the so-called Roman Baths by The Strand that I have a strange fondness for – although he stood outside and peered in though the gloomy glass, while I have had the pleasure of being on the other side of the locked door.
Very interestingly, I thought, was the visit to the Old Curiosity Shop which nestles in the complex of buildings owned by the LSE and boasts on the outside that it is the inspiration for the book. Turns out it isn’t, although I hope they don’t paint over their proud boast, as it does add character to the old building.
Although the film is being shown in a few cinemas, it is not on general release – but it will be shown on the Sky Arts TV channel sometime in October. I’d suggest sitting down with a notepad and pen though, as the tour around London includes some very interesting places that I now want to visit to have a look at in person but can’t recall where they all are. The leaping around from shot to shot is a bit irritating, but the overall film is quite enjoyable for an evenings educational viewing.