Dirk Bogarde in A Tale of Two Cities (1958)

A Movie for a Reader

As the French Revolution rumbles on Lucie Manette (Dorothy Tutin) meets and falls for Charles Darnay (Paul Guers) an Englishman. But Darnay has a secret as he is in fact part of the French aristocratic Evrémonde family, a much hated family due to the cruel Marquis St. Evrémonde (Christopher Lee) who at one time had Lucie's father tossed in prison for eighteen years. but there is a third person in their relationship, drink loving lawyer Sydney Carton (Dirk Bogarde) who is in love with Lucie but accepts she will never love him like she loves Darnay. Despite this he will do anything to make sure Lucie is happy even it means making sure that Darnay remains safe and his secret is kept from others.

Have you read Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities"? If the answer is no then I suggest you do so before attempting to watch this 1958 adaptation because it comes across as a movie for those who already know the story. Now I haven't read "A Tale of Two Cities" and as this movie started it soon lost me as there was no real character introductions or back story, it felt like I was being thrown in at the deep end and without the knowledge of having read the book the movie failed to get me interested in the story it was trying to tell.

In fact having not read Dickens' story I can't be sure but this 1958 adaptation feels like a literal adaptation of the classic with the dialogue preserved and a focus on recreating the imagery probably set out in the text right down to including a woman eating a chicken drum stick as she sits on the steps in the street. It makes it a visually impressive movie with the air of classic Dickens about it which is reinforced through the acting of the likes of Dirk Bogarde, Donald Pleasence and Christopher Lee. But again for those who have not read the prose prior to watching what it ends up coming across as is a stiff classic with only some contemporary entertainment thanks to Leo McKern who is famous for Rumpole of the Bailey starring as Attorney General-Old Bailey in this.

What this all boils down to is that this 1958 version of "A Tale of Two Cities" probably is enjoyable for those who have read Dickens' novel and so can appreciate the imagery of Ralph Thomas' version. But for those who have not read Dickens' novel will find this a visually beautiful movie but one which is hard work without that knowledge of the story to start with.