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The Death of Poor Joe (Image source)

A Charles Dickens film was recently discovered that is believed to be the oldest surviving piece of cinematography that features a Character from one of the author’s books.

The film, entitled, The Death of Poor Joe, was made in March 1901, making it around 7 months older than the previous earliest known Charles Dickens Film, Scrooge (also known as ‘Marley’s Ghost’).

Earliest Charles Dickens Film was a Lucky Find

The earliest Dickens film known to exist was a lucky find as it was discovered by accident in February 2012 when curator of the British Film Institute (BFI) Bryony Dixon was researching old Chinese films. She noticed the name The Death of Poor Joe was catalogued and recognised it as the character Jo from the Dickens novel Bleak House.

However the film in question was listed under a different name, Man Meets Ragged Boy though Ms Dixon recognised the character as soon as she saw the footage. In the book, the character Joe is a street-crossing sweeper in the Holborn district. The film lasts just one minute and depicts the character’s demise in a snow filled churchyard. He is then cradled by the local watchman who tried unsuccessfully to help him

Origins of the Earliest Dickens Footage

The BFI came by the footage in 1954 when it was given to them by a collector who was friends with the director of the piece, film pioneer George Albert Smith. Joe was probably played by Smith’s wife Laura Bayley and the watchman was played by Tom Green. British Film Institute officials suggest the film was shot in Brighton but this is uncertain.


The short film will be screened as a part of the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the author’s birth on the 9th and 23rd of March at London’s BFI Southbank. The Death of Poor Joe will be released on DVD at a later date but you can view it on the BBC website now.

Source: Earliest Charles Dickens Film Uncovered

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