Shadowbox: Magic Lantern Shows

Where can you see the world as it was in 1832, with living, breathing people, and the sort of lives they had?

Apart from living history museums such as Beamish and Ironbridge, we have dramatisations. Here are just a few I’m familiar with. If you know of any others, please add them in the comments section.

Precious Bane – the wonderful BBC production with Janet McTeer and Clive Owen. The last scene of this marvellous production has stayed with me in the almost thirty years since I saw it on TV. If you can find it on satellite or cable, do yourself a favour and watch it all the way through.

Far From The Madding Crowd (1967) - Julie Christie and Alan Bates

Far From The Madding Crowd – the production from 1967 with Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Terence Stamp. Huge tracts of land. Dorset.

Stair Hole [Dorset] Looking East, Frederick Whitehead, 1890s.Comrades – The story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a group of 19th century English farm labourers (also Dorset-based) who formed one of the first trade unions and started a campaign to receive fair wages. This production is famous for having Alex Norton playing 14 different roles within the story, including that of a Magic Lantern Man.

Subtitled “A Lanternist’s Account of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and What Became of Them”, the film plays with the idea of social puppetry and class perception through the figure of The Lanternist – Tara Judah, Senses of Cinema

The Fool – another British production, this time featuring Derek Jacobi in twin roles as a man who passes between high society and low. Sticks in my mind for the woman who makes her living by knitting “squares”.

Les Miserables – this is the Hugh Jackman version of the musical. I’ve yet to see the film but remember the stage version from about 1988, in London (my cousin had tickets and a husband who wasn’t interested). I wasn’t much interested back then either, but was impressed by the stage set.

And, of course:

The Count of Monte Cristo – although this TV adaptation with Gerard Depardieu mucks about with the ending somewhat, the most thrilling and entertaining parts survive intact and the characters are superbly acted. A family affair, this film, as Depardieu’s daughter Julie plays Valentine de Villefort and the young Monte Cristo – Edmond Dantes – is played by Depardieu’s son Guillaume.

Whatever influence these dramatisations may have had on my imagination – however much they might have helped me to picture the period in which I set SHADOWBOX – the story within the pages of the novel is my own.

Next post in the SHADOWBOX series: What’s Missing In 1832?

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