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Teacher Notes - Key Stage 3&4 A Guide to Dickens on Film

Key Stage Target KS3 KS4


Curriculum Links English Language English Literature

A Guide to DICKENS on FILM

Born on February 7th 1812, writer and social critic Charles Dickens was the most popular
and influential writer of Victorian Times, His novels, short stories, and memorable
fictional characters have remained popular and have inspired hundreds of screen
adaptations. Weve selected five of the best which teachers can use to spark discussion
about the author and his works, and generate increased interest in the written texts.
Each film is accompanied by a synopsis, teacher notes, discussion questions and
activities. Designed to boost literacy, these range from comparing the depictions of
characters in book and film, to writing persuasive letters, to creating a new adaptation of
Scrooge or a Wanted poster for Oliver Twist.
Teacher Notes - Key Stage 3&4 A Guide to Dickens on Film

The films included in this topic are:

Great Expectations (2012, 12) 129 mins

Oliver Twist (1948, U) 110 mins

Scrooge (1951, U) 82 mins

A Tale of Two Cities (1958, U) 117 mins

Nicholas Nickelby (2002, PG) 132 mins

Running a film club in your school can enrich the curriculum and allow young people to explore
a wide variety of issues, experience cultures beyond their own, and develop their creativity,
communication skills and confidence. After watching a film students are encouraged to
comment during a post-screening discussion before writing reviews on the website (which has a
real audience of other young people) where they can analyse the film and develop their literacy
and critical skills. Above all, students and teachers can enjoy the shared experience of watching
and discussing a film together.

Set up a free film club and enjoy free access to thousands of films and education resources for
learning through film and about film. To join or for information visit www.filmclub.org, email
support@filmclub.org or call 0207 288 4520.
Teacher Notes - Key Stage 3&4 A Guide to Dickens on Film

Great Expectations (2012, 12) 129 mins

Enrichment Focus
This Film Resource is aimed at ages 11+. Suggested subjects for discussion are Charles Dickens,
adaptations and filmmaking.

Whats this film about?


A sumptuously shot adaptation of Charles Dickens' story about a young orphan given the
opportunity to escape his roots thanks to a mysterious benefactor.

Why this film?


Charles Dickens' classic novel has been adapted many times but it's never lost its appeal. Here,
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire director Mike Newell teams up with some superb British
acting talent to deliver his own beautifully shot and atmospheric version. Sticking closely to
both the words and spirit of Dickens, the 19th-century-set drama sees penniless orphan Pip
given the opportunity to escape his humble roots thanks to a mystery benefactor. Becoming a
gentleman in London, Pip thinks his new wealth and social status will win over spoilt beauty
Estella a young heiress he's adored since childhood. However his expectations of love and life
are repeatedly shattered, particularly when the shocking truth about his fortune is revealed.

What the critics think


I thought this film was just amazing! Helena Bonham-Carter was great at being Miss Havisham
and Jeremy Irvine as Pip.
Film club member, Leah, aged 11
Thrillingly told, compellingly acted and beautifully shot.
Michael OSullivan, Washington Post
Teacher Notes - Key Stage 3&4 A Guide to Dickens on Film

Teacher Notes - Key Stage 3&4 A Guide to Dickens on Film

Before the film: Starter Activity

1. Can you think of a time when you have


misjudged a person? What influenced your
opinion?

2. How do you think other peoples expectations


of you affect the way you behave and treat
others?

After the film: Discussion Questions


Teacher Notes
1. Look at the descriptions of Miss Havisham and
Magwitch from the novel. How do their
depictions on screen compare? 1. The influence of the text can be identified
in many elements of set, costume and
2. Is Pip a good judge of character? How does his performance. For instance, Helena
opinion of people change throughout the film? Bonham Carter walks with a limp in a
What does he learn? number of scenes for she had but one
shoe on - the other was on the table near
3. To be guilty and and to be found guilty are her hand (Chapter 8). Students may also
discuss the extent to which the screenplay
different things How is the criminal justice
adheres to Dickens style and tone of
system shown to be at odds with morality? dialogue.

4. What do you think happens after the film ends? 2. Pip misjudges a number of people, allowing
Why might the filmmakers choose to give the snobbery and class to influence his opinion.
film an open and ambiguous ending? Students can identify incidences of this and
chart the lessons they feel he learns
through his experience.
Next Steps
3. This is particularly clear in the story of
1. Get your students voices heard by joining Magwitch and Compeyson. Other
FILMCLUB and writing reviews at characters, such as Jaggers and Miss
www.filmclub.org Havisham, may also be seen to be guilty or
immoral in terms of their treatment and
2. Fill in the Great Expectations Activity sheet deception of Pip, but remain outside of the
explaining how you would advise the actor justice system.
playing one of the main roles to act if you were
in the directors role? 4. Dickens wrote two endings to Great
Related Resources Expectations. The second, which can be
read as Pip and Estellas eventual union, is
Watch the FILMCLUB interview with the films still slightly ambiguous. Students can discuss
screenwriter David Nicholls: which, if either, ending they feel is depicted
http://www.filmclub.org/behind-the-scenes/ in the film.
details/300/david-nicholls
Student worksheet A Guide to Dickens on Film

Magwitch

"Hold your noise!" cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the
church porch. "Keep still, you little devil, or I'll cut your throat!"

A fearful man all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken
shoes and with an old rag tied around his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and
smothered in mud and lamed by stones and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars;
who limped and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he
seized me by the chin.

Great Expectations - Chapter 1: The Convict Frightens Me

Miss Havisham

Whether I should have made out this object so soon, if there had been no fine lady sitting at it, I
cannot say. In an arm-chair, with an elbow resting on the table and her head leaning on that hand,
sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see.

She was dressed in rich materials - satins, and lace, and silks - all of white. Her shoes were white. And
she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair
was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay
sparkling on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were
scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on - the other was on
the table near her hand - her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and
some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some
flowers, and a prayer-book, all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass.

It was not in the first few moments that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first
moments than might be supposed. But, I saw that everything within my view which ought to be
white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride
within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but
the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a
young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone.
Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what
impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see
a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement.
Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have
cried out, if I could.

Great Expectations, Chapter 8: The First visit at Miss Havishams


Student worksheet A Guide to Dickens on Film

Great Expectations Activity


Directors notes
You are an actor in a new adaptation of Great The adaptation will be set in 1940s London.
Expectations.
The costumes will be of that period.
Your director has given you his notes on the
adaptations style and you must fill out the sheet below However all the characters speech will
to develop your role as one of the main characters. remain true to the original novel.

What should your movements be like What your character will be


when... doing during a typical day? 15:00

...walking? 06:00
16:00

07:00
17:00
...sitting?
08:00
18:00

...standing? 09:00
19:00

10:00
....having a cup of tea? 20:00

11:00
21:00
...eating a meal?
12:00
22:00

13:00
23:00

14:00
00:00

Where would you find information about the time period that will help you to master the accent, and
understand what your character is going through?

........................................................................................................................................................................................................

........................................................................................................................................................................................................

........................................................................................................................................................................................................

........................................................................................................................................................................................................
Teacher Notes - Key Stage 3&4 A Guide to Dickens on Film

Oliver Twist (1948, U) 110 mins

Enrichment Focus
This Film Resource is aimed at ages 7+. Suggested subjects for discussion are Charles Dickens,
adaptations and characterisation.

Whats this film about?


A film version of the famous Charles Dickens novel about a young orphan who escapes from a
brutal workhouse and joins a pickpocket gang in Victorian London.

Why this film?


This is one of 19th century author Charles Dickens most popular stories, and highlights the
horrors of poverty at the time. Director David Lean brings Victorian London vividly to life, as a
place at once terrifying and fascinating, home to all manner of residents - from the evil Bill
Sykes to the villainous Fagin and the courageous and good-hearted Nancy. Dickens story has
been filmed many times, but despite being made over 50 years ago, this visually stunning
adaptation is still considered the best film version.

What the critics think


This film will definitely be the end of all assumptions that old films are boring- It's tense, shady
and completely unpredictable/ unexpected.
Film club member, Aoife, aged 10
A superb piece of motion picture art and, beyond doubt, one of the finest screen translations
of a literary classic ever made.
Bosley Crowther, New York Times
Teacher Notes - Key Stage 3&4 A Guide to Dickens on Film

Before the film: Starter Activity


1. This film is about a boy who is so unhappy and
scared he runs away to London. Why did he
choose London where else might he have
gone?

2. Do you have a favourite book or film about a


young person who gets into trouble with the
wrong crowd?

After the film: Discussion Questions


Teacher Notes
1. One of the most famous scenes in the film is
when Oliver asks for more food. Why is he
punished for this? Do you think this could 1. Students can consider the ways children
happen today? are better protected today but also the
gaps that still exist between poor and rich
2. What does the film tell you about what it was in their own country and throughout the
like to be a poor orphan in the 19th century? world.

3. Watch the opening scene again, when Olivers 2. It was common in Victorian times for
mother walks through the storm to the writers to think that childhood should be a
workhouse. How does David Lean make us time of perfect innocence and freedom.
empathise with her situation, using lighting, Oliver Twists experience is the opposite
costumes and sound? of this, with self-interested adults
routinely ungenerous and unkind to him.
Dickens used his writing to highlight social
issues such as lack of schooling,
Next Steps separation from parents and forced
1. Get your students voices heard by joining labour, these issues can also be identified
FILMCLUB and writing reviews at in the film.
www.filmclub.org
3. The use of high contrast lighting,
2. Draw a poster asking for help in capturing some menacing shadows of thorns and trees
of the criminals in Oliver Twist - Fagin, Dodger, create a sinister and tense atmosphere.
Bill. Include details of their crimes and a The storm, imagery of gathering cloud
description of their appearance and character. and heightened sound of thunder add to
Use the Oliver Twist worksheet to help you. our sense of her desperation and doom.

Related Resources
Watch a FILMCLUB interview with David Lean
expert Ian Banks to find out more about the films
director: http://www.filmclub.org/behind-the-
scenes/details/336/david-lean-expert-ian-banks
Student worksheet A Guide to Dickens on Film

WANTED
FOR

DESCRIPTION

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES

IF YOU SEE HIM CONTACT:


Teacher Notes - Key Stage 3&4 A Guide to Dickens on Film

Scrooge (1951, U) 82 mins

Enrichment Focus
This Film Resource is aimed at ages 7+. Suggested subjects for discussion are Charles Dickens
and adaptations.

Whats this film about?


Spooky version of the classic Dickens novel A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is made to see the
error of his ways through the visitation of three spirits on Christmas Eve.

Why this film?


There have been dozens of adaptations of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carolbut this atmospheric,
black-and-white version is one of the best. Great Scottish actor Alistair Sim stars as the miserly
Ebenezer Scrooge; an uncaring and tight fisted company boss who places profit above his workers,
his family and especially above Christmas. On Christmas Eve Scrooge is visited by a series of spooky
ghosts that are determined to make him see the error of his ways. The spirits in this version are
frequently scary enough to convince us that the grumpy old man may indeed be persuaded to
change but the films real strength lies in Sims energetic performance, which brilliant captures
Scrooges dramatic and touching transformation.

What the critics think


One of the most excitingly thrilling black and white films I have ever seen.
Film club member, Emma, aged 10

Brian Desmond Hurst's faithful adaptation is festive fare par excellence, and by far the best
version committed to celluloid.
Monika Maurer, Empire Magazine
Teacher Notes - Key Stage 3&4 A Guide to Dickens on Film

Before the film: Starter Activity

1. What do you think people mean by


Christmas spirit?

2. Have you ever heard someone described as a


scrooge? What qualities would a scrooge
have?

After the film: Discussion Questions


Teacher Notes
1. How do we see Scrooge change over the
course of his visits with the Ghost of Christmas
past? 1. We see Scrooge change from a happy
young man who doesnt care about
2. Why does Scrooge fear the third ghost most of money to the miser he is now. Alice says
all? he has been changed by the harshness of
the world.
3. What has Scrooge learnt by the end of the
film? How can we tell that he has changed? 2. At this stage in the film Scrooge has
realised the error of his ways, he is
4. Look at the scene where Scrooge is haunted horrified by the words quoted back to him
by Marley (10.33 - 15.00), what makes this by the Ghost of Christmas Present and
scene scary? Did you find any other moments ashamed of the way others talk about him.
frightening? He cant imagine a happy future for
himself.

3. When Scrooge wakes from his last visit he


Next Steps is clearly changed, he laughs, skips and
performs a number of generous acts. This
1. Get your students voices heard by joining
is backed up by the information the
FILMCLUB and writing reviews at
narrator provides.
www.filmclub.org
4. The lighting and sound in this scene make
2. This story has been adapted numerous times,
it particularly frightening. High contrast
set in different eras and locations. How would
lighting in in the hall and bedroom creates
you adapt this story? Choose a new location
menacing shadows. The soundtrack has a
and give the characters names and roles to
low rumbling that builds with a
match your setting. For instance, Scrooge
cacophony of strings and bells as well as
could be a selfish astronaut visited by three
the animalistic groans of Marley dragging
aliens or a pirate captain who doesnt share his
his chain.
loot with his crew.
Student worksheet A Guide to Dickens on Film

Scrooge Activity

Think about your own adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Fill in the sheet.

Characters
Original My version
Ebenezer Scrooge
Victorian London

Bob Cratchit
Scrooges home

Scrooges counting Tiny Tim


house

Bobs home Marleys Ghost

Write the opening paragraph of your story. It should set up the time period, location and characters for
your reader.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________________

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Teacher Notes - Key Stage 3&4 A Guide to Dickens on Film

A Tale of Two Cities (1958, U) 117 mins

Enrichment Focus
This Film Resource is aimed at ages 11+. Suggested subjects for discussion are Charles Dickens,
adaptations and writing to argue.

Whats this film about?


Adaptation of Dickens' French Revolution-set historical novel, about a lawyer who saves a
young aristocrat and falls for his fiance in the process.

Why this film?

Love and loyalty come into conflict with dramatic historical events in this faithful adaptation of
Charles Dickens' much-filmed novel. During the violence of the French Revolution,
disillusioned English lawyer Sydney Carton is called upon to save young French aristocrat
Charles Darnay from treason charges but in the process falls for the noblemans fiance. As the
French uprising becomes increasingly bloodthirsty all three are caught up in the confusion,
ultimately facing difficult dilemmas that lead some to heroic acts of sacrifice. This redemptive
drama boasts strong performances, a straightforward script and vivid period details.

What the critics think


A faithful adaptation, following in a simple, straightforward manner (thanks to screenwriter
T.E.B. Clarke) the narrative line of the book.
David Parker, BFI Screen Online
Teacher Notes - Key Stage 3&4 A Guide to Dickens on Film

Before the film: Starter Activity

What is a revolution?

What conditions do you think provoke a


revolution? What motivates people rebel?

Can you think of any examples from history or in


recent years? (Hint: Syria, Egypt).

After the film: Discussion Questions


Teacher Notes

1. Why do you think the story contains dramatic


revelations and twists?If you were to screen 1. The novel was originally published in 31
this film in several short sections how would weekly installments in the first editions of
you divide the film to ensure the audience Dickens magazine All the Year Round.
were eager for more? Students could suggest moments such as
the return of Lucies father, her marriage
2. What is shown to cause the revolution, is it and the revelation of Darnays true identity
inevitable? Do you think is is a historically as good places to break the film.
accurate portrayal?
2. The film shows us the poverty and
3. What did you make of Sydney Carton, did your mistreatment of the poor and the
opinion of him change over the course of the indifference of the aristocracy. This is
film? What do you think Dickens is suggesting particularly clear in the scene in which
through Cartons final act of sacrifice? Evrmonde runs over the child. Whilst this
gives some insight in to real events the
film also focuses on a few characters
Next Steps rather than wider issues and some
1. Get your students voices heard by joining portrayals, such as Mrs Defarge could be
FILMCLUB and writing reviews at seen as caricatures.
www.filmclub.org
3. Carton initially appears to be a cynical,
2. Work in pairs. Write an argument to persuade a irresponsible alcoholic but eventually
jury that Charles Darnay should or should not be becomes the selfless hero of the story.
executed along with all his decedents. Present Through this violent sacrifice, happiness
your arguments to another student or teacher and peace is secured for others- a
acting as the judge. Use the A Tale of Two Cities principle that could also apply to the
worksheet to help structure the argument. violent revolution.
Student worksheet A Guide to Dickens on Film

A Tale of Two Cities Activity

A defence speech for Charles Dornay

Paragraph 1
Explain what Charles has been charged with and that your speech will prove his innocence.

Paragraph 2
Take the jury through the facts of the case and explain why Charles is innocent. Use facts, statistics
and quotes from witnesses and experts to prove his innocence.

Paragraph 3
Explain why the prosecutions arguments are not true. Challenge their evidence and witness
testimonies.

Paragraph 4
Include an emotive conclusion that uses repetition, a list of three and a rhetorical question for
emphasis.
Teacher Notes - Key Stage 3&4 A Guide to Dickens on Film

Nicholas Nickleby (2002, PG) 132 mins

Enrichment Focus
This Film Resource is aimed at ages 11+. Suggested subjects for discussion are Charles Dickens
and adaptations.

Whats this film about?


Star-studded adaptation of Dickenss tale of a virtuous orphan trying to support his family and
make his way in the world after the death of his father.

Why this film?


Themes of loyalty, betrayal and revenge are explored with a lightness of touch in his fast
paced, fun adaptation. Following the death of his father Nicholas Nickleby, finds himself
penniless and head of his family at the young age of nineteen. His struggle to find his place in
the world and support his mother and sister leads him to encounters with an array of colourful
characters; brilliantly brought to life here by an impressive ensemble cast including Christopher
Plummer as the miserly and menacing Ralph Nickleby and Jim Broadbent as the repugnant
Squeers. The films emphasis on the humour and sentimentality of Dickens work make this
accessible and engaging introduction to the novel.

What the critics think


The movie is jolly and exciting and brimming with life, and wonderfully well-acted.
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun TImes

A beguiling evocation of the quality that keeps Dickens evergreen: the exuberant openness
with which he expresses our most basic emotions.
Richard Corliss, TIME
Teacher Notes - Key Stage 3&4 A Guide to Dickens on Film

A Guide to Dickens on Film

Before the film: Starter Activity

Can you think of any famous boarding schools


from films or books, would you like to go to any
of them?

Produce an advert for your ideal boarding school,


this can be written or acted out for TV. Which
features would you highlight? (Hint: delicious
food , activities, education.)

After the film: Discussion Questions


Teacher Notes
1. How would you describe the conditions at
Dotheboys? What was most shocking? How 1. The school is a cruel, cold rundown
does the film signal this is a bad place before place. This is immediately signaled to the
we enter it? viewer with Nicholass arrival. The storm,
lighting and music, as well as the way we
2. Compare this film to other Dickens stories you see Smyke treated immediately imbue
know, what are the similarities, are there the place with a sense of dread.
differences?
2. The story explores some themes familiar
3. What is the role of money in this film, how are from other Dickens novels such as the
we invited to see it? What qualities are valued mistreatment of children and the poor
above it? and friendship. However the tone of this
story is much lighter than works such as
Oliver Twist or Great Expectations.

3. The miserly Ralph Nickleby is the villain


Next Steps
of the story and could be seen as a
1. Get your students voices heard by joining prototype for Scrooge. His obsession
FILMCLUB and writing reviews at with money and profiting from other
www.filmclub.org leads him to terrible acts including the
abandonment of his son. In contrast
2. The novel is famously long and was once characters such as Nichols and the
adapted as a 8 ! hour play, what would Cheeryble brothers are shown to be
you cut or expand in this version? Choose loyal, generous and virtuous, valuing the
one element of the plot i.e the theatre wellbeing of others over profit.
company, and write premise for a film that
just focuses on this story. Include a short
synopsis, potential cast and setting. Use the
Nicholas Nickleby Activity sheet to help
write the premise.
Student worksheet A Guide to Dickens on Film

Nicholas Nickleby Activity


Your task is to write a premise for a new version of Nicholas Nickelby. You can use a
maximum of 27 words.

Writing a Premise
Can you link up these premise with the films that they sum up?

When a materialistic, womanising Aryan


industrialist discovers his Jewish workers
Groundhog Day are being sent to Nazi death camps, he risks
his life and fortune to save them.

An egotistical TV personality must relive


the same day in small town Punxsutawney
Raiders of the Lost Ark and be denied the girl of his dreams unless
he can become more selfless.

A dashing archaeologist must reunite with


the ex he dumped if he is to beat the Nazis
Schindlers List to find the all-powerful lost Ark of the
Covenant.

Who is the hero? Your 27 word premise

What is the quest? ..............................................................................

What is your heros flaw? ..............................................................................

Where is the conflict? ..............................................................................

What does your hero have to lose? ..............................................................................

Who is the villain? ..............................................................................

What is the tone? ..............................................................................

What is your films unique selling point? ..............................................................................