The Victorian Era in Film - Thursdays in April
The Victorian Era, with its pomp and circumstance and underlying struggles involving poverty, sickness and the subjugation of women, has been a rich subject in movies over the decades. The era is generally considered to cover the reign of Queen Victoria in the British Isles from 1837 to 1899. No author portrayed the difference between the privileged and the deprived during this period better than Charles Dickens. He is represented in our month-long programming by Great Expectations (1946), director David Lean's definitive version of Dickens' 1861 classic about the life and times of an orphan named Pip.
Our films are divided into categories beginning with Victorian Crime. These range from Gaslight (1944), George Cukor's thriller about a Victorian gent (Charles Boyer) scheming to drive his new wife (Ingrid Bergman) insane; to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1982), a TV adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim stage musical about a murderous couple (Angela Lansbury and George Hearn) who find a novel use for their victims' remains.
Another outstanding crime drama is The Lodger (1944), in which a couple in Victorian London come to fear that the man they have rented a room to may be Jack the Ripper, the era's most famous killer. Other titles in the Crime category include So Evil My Love (1948) and The Hour of 13 (1952).
Victorian Science and Exploration encompasses the terrifying (Oscar® winner Fredric March in 1931's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and the beguiling (Rex Harrison in 1967's Doctor Dolittle), as well as the adventurous. Mike Todd's all-star movie version of the Jules Verne Around the World in 80 Days (1956) is a tale about the efforts of an English gentleman (David Niven) attempting to circle the globe. It won an Oscar® for Best Picture. Also in this category: The Time Machine (1960) and First Men in the Moon (1964).
Victorian Romance includes not only Great Expectations but also such other fine film adaptations of Victorian novels as Far from the Madding Crowd (1967), based on the book by Thomas Hardy, directed by John Schlesinger and starring Julie Christie and Peter Finch; and A Room With a View (1985), based on the E.M. Forster novel, directed by James Ivory and starring Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter and Judi Dench. Other romances include On Approval (1944) and The Go-Between (1971).
The subject of Victorian Society and Manners would not be complete without The Importance of Being Earnest (1952), director Anthony Asquith's scintillating film version of Oscar Wilde's comedy of manners, with a delightful cast topped by Edith Evans' definitive Lady Bracknell. Another film of unusual interest is the TCM premiere of The Mudlark (1950), Jean Negulesco's treatment of Theodore Bonnet's novel about a street urchin (Andrew Ray) who visits Queen Victoria (Irene Dunne). Also in the mix: The Katharine Hepburn feminist drama A Woman Rebels (1936), the Shirley Temple vehicle The Little Princess (1939) and the British comedy The Wrong Box (1966).
by Roger Fristoe