What the Dickens

February 7, 2020 would have been the 208th birthday of Charles John Huffam Dickens English writer and social critic. To celebrate, what better way to remember Dickens than to watch a great documentary about him.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” and often times, the oldies are the goodies.

In the case of the BBC’s 10-part documentary “Dickens in America”, which was originally broadcast in 1996, hasn’t lost its charm. This is a great miniseries that follows the same journey Dickens took with his wife Catharine to America from January to June of 1842. During this trip Dickens writes a travelogue called American Notes, which was later published in October of that same year.

Miriam Margolyes (Professor Sprout from the Harry Potter films) who hosts and Nathanial Parker (Inspector Lynley Mysteries) who voices Dickens, are entertaining to watch and listen to. Margolyes charmingly acts segments from his books along the way and provides insight into the same stops Dickens took 178 year earlier. Parker suavely reads segments from Dickens’ American Notes and engages the viewer with his posh accent, making you almost think it is Dickens himself speaking as he analyzes and then critiques the flaws of the landscape and people of the time.

Dickens’ letters home to his friends helped form the basis of the book and this series doesn’t skip a beat as it highlights the sights on Dickens’ journey which he describes in this travelogue. Dickens visits to prisons and mental institutions are grim, but the steamboat and train travel as he goes from Boston to New England, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond, Pittsburgh, Louisville, the Midwest, and St. Louis with an extension into Canada via Niagara Falls, Fort George, Toronto and Montreal are brighter. Worth the watch!

— Teresa N-P