Earliest Dickens Film

The Death of Poor Joe
R: George Albert Smith. B: Charles Dickens (novel). D: Laura Bayley, Tom Green. P: Warwick Trading Company. UK 1901
Print: BFI National Archive

The Death of Poor Joe is a 1901 British short silent drama film, directed by George Albert Smith, which features the director’s wife Laura Bayley as Joe, a child street-sweeper who dies of disease on the street in the arms of a policeman. The film, which went on release in March 1901, takes its name from a famous photograph posed by Oscar Rejlander after an episode in Charles Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ and is the oldest known surviving film featuring a Dickens character.”

“The film was very likely to have been based on a stage original (Bayley was a stage actress and pantomime artist in Brighton) or possibly a magic lantern slide set. It has that look of deliberation which comes when something is being followed closely, particularly the actions of the nightwatchman. Further investigation of the film’s production origins may reveal just how closely or tangentially it is related to Dickens’ novel. The film is also interesting for the effect of the nightwatchman’s lamp light (created by a light shining off-screen) and for the wind-blown backdrop with the shadows of branches – the film was clearly made in the open-air (probably St Ann’s Well Gardens in Hove, when Smith had an open-air studio).”
Luke McKernan
The Bioscope

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