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William K. Howard
An elderly shop-keeper and his grand-daughter are threatened by the rich, mean-spirited dwarf Quilp, and decide to flee across England to escape him. They are pursued both by Quilp and by the shop-keeper's long-lost brother, who wants to find them for a different reason.Written by
The Old Curiosity Shop is not a Dickens classic(it's far from his worst though, that's Barnaby Rudge), it is on the too long side, has a sprawling nature to it and has traps of the old-fashioned melodrama being too creaky and the much-mocked(the most notorious being Oscar Wilde) Little Nell death scene being overly mawkish. It is however very Dickensian in atmosphere, has moments where it is whimsical and intense and it also has some of Dickens's best comic scenes and the splendidly drawn character of Quilp(a contender for Dickens's best villain). This version is one that has either been maligned or has been treated indifferently among those who have seen it, and while it is a curio and there are better adaptations of the book around(1995 and 1979) it does deserve more credit. It's not perfect of course, the climax is very exaggerated that it feels hammy, there are some repetitive or added parts that were unnecessary(that's even in the photography) and bog down the pacing a bit and Little Nell's death did come across as hollow emotionally(I have been known to cry during this part despite its rep) and over-sentimentalised. It is also a little creaky and old-fashioned in places but that's forgivable because of the times and that the book has those as well.
Despite looking as though it could pass for a silent film, The Old Curiosity Shop(1934) is well made, the sets, lighting and costumes are wonderful and the photography is mostly good. A great job is done evoking the atmosphere, a lot of it does feel like you are in Dickens's time and Victorian England which is always a good quality adapting Dickens. The music is beautiful and also evocative of the era, the dialogue is intelligently adapted with evidence of Dickensian flavour, with a fair amount of humour(very funny) and suspense(very intense) and while there are scenes that don't come off well the story is compelling and coherent- not too dull either!- and in a way where you can relate to the Trents' plight and Quilp's scenes are suitably foreboding and entertaining to watch. Credit is due also for the film actually trying to respect the book and Dickens's style and it does that very well, it is one of the more faithful adaptations without being too much so. Thomas Bentley's direction is most commendable with a real vibe that he understands Dickens and has a respect for him, yes parts could have been executed much better but there is no doubting the effort he put in and he should be applauded for that. The acting is very theatrical but is still reasonably good. The supporting characters have been better fleshed out elsewhere but are still solidly played, while Ben Webster and Elaine Benson characterise the grandfather and Little Nell ably, he being compassionate and charming and she being quietly dignified and sweet(if occasionally cloying as well, that's not her fault though as Dickens's few weaknesses were how he sometimes wrote his female heroines and how his use of sentimentality can come across). Hay Petrie does steal the show, he embodies evil as Quilp to terrifying effect and while he is the most theatrical of the actors he's wickedly fun in being so. In conclusion, a pretty respectable adaptation with some imperfections. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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