The 1977 Granada Television Production of Hard Times.

Cast: Jacqueline Tong = Louisa Grandgrind, Timothy West = Josiah Bounderby, Patrick Allen = Thomas Gradgrind, Ursula Howells = Mrs. Grandgrind, Richard Wren = Tom Gradgrind, Barbara Ewing = Rachel, Alan Dobie = Stephen Blackpool, Michelle Dibnah = Sissy Jupe, Edward Fox = James Harthouse, Harry Markham = Sleary, and Rosalie Crutchley = Mrs. Sparsit. (Philip Bolton, Dickens Dramatized, pp. 371-2)

The television opener thus reinforces the dichotomy which is at the center of the novel by this immediate focus upon an important symbol of life forces, the horse. In Hard Times the horse as a symbol of vitalism is most prominent in the opening scenes in the schoolroom . . . . It should be noted that a symbol (unlike a simile) is readily adaptable for film. This us because a symbol is always literally true. (George Ford, "Dickens' Hard Times on Television: "Problems of Adaptation"; Norton ed., page 408)

1. Ford contends that the Granada Television adaptation improves upon the original "by preceding the schoolroom scene with a few shots of Coketown in the morning," then shifting the focus from the circus horses to the inside of the schoolroom. What details have screenwriter Arthur Hopcraft and director John Irwin emphasized in this production? What impressions of Coketown are conveyed?

2. In the Manchester Lancasterian School, a thousand children were taught in a single room, with only two masters and one mistress in charge, and had to be numbered off in military style. They were divided into units of nine or ten, each unit being under a monitor.

To what extent do the film and the opening chapters of the text convey an appropriate sense of such a large school-room with a raked floor and rote-memory lessons delivered by a team of teachers to a large number of children?

3. The opening chapters of the book are a satire of utilitarianism (the ethical doctrine that actions are good in proportion to their usefulness--"the greatest happiness of the greatest number"). To what extent does the character of Thomas Gradgrind as enacted by Patrick Allen in the film convey the original's satire?

4. Ford is, however, critical of the film version's handling of the scene between Louisa and Tom (Norton ed., pages 142-143): "Apparently the producers felt that Dickens' Victorian bedroom scene was too shocking for an audience in the late twentieth century!" (405)

What specific changes rob the scene in the film of the original's power? What seems to be the difference in the relationship between Tom and Louisa in the 1977 film as opposed to the original 1854 text?

5. Of the three Victorian illustrators of Hard Times, only the American Charles Stanley Reinhart in the American Household Edition (1873) has dared to depict the scene between Louisa and Tom (Norton ed., pages 142-143): "Oh Tom! Tell Me The Truth" (p. 190). Compare Reinhart's handling of this scene (plate 10) with that of the 1977 made-for-television film. Speculate as to what aspects of this scene Victorian publishers would have regarded a "dangerous." Remember that the Editor-in-Chief of the weekly journal Household Words, in which Hard Times ran serially, was Charles Dickens himself.

The Exercises

  1. A New Critical Approach
  2. The Textual-Biographical Approach
  3. The New Historicist Contextual Approach
  4. Cinematic Adaptation and Illustration
  5. Close-Reading a Passage
  6. Intertextuality: Hard Times and Charles Perrault "Bluebeard"

Last modified 21 May 2003