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Friday, 6 September 2013

Classic Film Review: A Tale of Two Cities (1958)

In this adaptation of the Dickens novel, Dirk Bogarde heads the cast as drunkard Sydney Carton. Alongside him are Dorothy Tutin as Lucie Manette, Cecil Parker as Jarvis Lorry, Stephen Murray as Dr. Manette and Paul Guers as Charles Darnay. A Tale of Two Cities blends revolutionary France with matters of the heart, this adaptation achieving perhaps more of the latter than the former.

To summarise the plot for those unfamiliar: Dr. Manette has been imprisoned in the Bastille for eighteen years. He is released and moves to England with his daughter. She then meets a French aristocrat masquerading as an Englishman, Charles Darnay, and they marry. However, when revolution breaks out in France, Darnay's heritage leaves him a target. Advocate Sydney Carton is quietly in love with Lucie and is determined to save her happiness at any cost.

On the whole, this film is excellent. It deals with the revolution scenes thoughtfully, showing enough to get the flavour but without it becoming a film more about action that emotion. There are certainly some stand-out moments, for instance, when Manette first meets his daughter again and when Sydney drunkenly confesses his love for Lucie. Then, of course, there are the scenes when Sydney makes and sticks to his great decision. Bogarde is astounding in these scenes, as he is throughout the course of the film. The final scene actually brought tears to my eyes thanks to his performance.

There are some niggles, of course. Paul Guers is dubbed, creating some irritating moments when the dialogue and the miming don't fit. It particularly ruined an important scene between Sydney and Darnay. In addition, there were moments of over-acting, though it could just be that, in comparison to Bogarde, other performances were bound to look weak.

It's been a while since I read the book so I can't comment on adaptation accuracy but, as a piece of film, this works exceedingly well. Sydney grows as a character and the last half of the film ratchets the tension up nicely making the inevitable conclusion even more bittersweet.

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