Watch the Earliest-Known Charles Dickens Film: The Death of Poor Joe

A lit­tle over a decade ago, a cura­tor at the British Film Insti­tute (BFI) dis­cov­ered the old­est sur­viv­ing film fea­tur­ing a Charles Dick­ens char­ac­ter, “The Death of Poor Joe.” The silent film, direct­ed by George Albert Smith in 1900, brings to life Dick­ens’ char­ac­ter Jo, the cross­ing sweep­er from Bleak House. Pri­or to this find, the title of the old­est known Dick­ens film belonged to Scrooge, or, Marley’s Ghost, which pre­miered in Novem­ber 1901.

Pro­vid­ing more con­text for the film, the BFI writes:

This trag­ic short film is based on the stage pro­duc­tion of Poor Jo the Cross­ing Sweep­er, which itself adapt­ed one of the most affect­ing sto­ries in Dick­ens’ epic nov­el Bleak House. This short film is very much an adap­ta­tion of the stage ver­sion, in which a fol­low-spot recre­at­ed the night watch­man’s lamp. As Joe dies, nev­er hav­ing been taught to pray, the light also rep­re­sents the redemp­tive light of heav­en.

The char­ac­ter of Joe was pop­u­larised in the 19th cen­tu­ry by actress Jen­nie Lee, who toured her per­for­mance around Europe and the USA. Here Joe is played by Lau­ra Bay­ley and the Night-watch­man by Tom Green. Both actors were reg­u­lar col­lab­o­ra­tors with the Brighton-based film­mak­er GA Smith (Bay­ley was his wife).

You can watch the film, cour­tesy of BFI, above.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

An Oscar-Win­ning Ani­ma­tion of Charles Dick­ens’ Clas­sic Tale, A Christ­mas Car­ol (1971)

Watch L’Inferno (1911), Italy’s First Fea­ture Film and Per­haps the Finest Adap­ta­tion of Dante’s Clas­sic

Watch Very First Film Adap­ta­tions of Shakespeare’s Plays: King John, The Tem­pest, Richard III & More (1899–1936)

Franken­stein Hits the Sil­ver Screen (1910)

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.