GREAT BOOK & MOVIE
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we have everything before us we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period …”
Those are the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870).
I re-read the book last week. One of the greatest novels of the English language, A Tale of Two Cities is believed to be the best-selling work of fiction in history (first published as a book in 1859, estimates put it around 200 million copies).
I also watched a film of the book. The 1935 movie is probably the best cinematic version. A bit over two hours, you can access it at https://archive.org/details/ATaleOfTwoCities1935.
British actors play the two leads.
Ronald Colman is unforgettable as Sydney Carton, the lawyer given to drink. His love interest – unrequited – is Lucie Manette, played by Elizabeth Allan.
There are many other brilliant performances, including that of Basil Rathbone. Normally known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, Rathbone’s minor role as the detestable Marquis St Evremonde is quite chilling, particularly when he shows not a strand of remorse after his carriage runs down a young boy.
Ronald Colman is unforgettable as Sydney Carton, the English lawyer given to drink. His love interest – unrequited – is Lucie Manette, played equally brilliantly by Elizabeth Allan.
One of the most touching passages in the book is towards the end, when Sydney Carton has decided to sacrifice his life for the woman (and her daughter) who he loves. The lawyer has something of an accomplice in the person of Mr Jarvis Lorry of Tellson’s Bank.
Here is part of their final exchange in the bank’s Paris office.
“I should like to ask you: Does your childhood seem far off? Do the days when you sat at your mother’s knee, seem days of very long ago?”
Lorry, 78, replies:
“Twenty years back, yes; at this time of my life, no. For, as I draw closer and closer to the end, I travel in the circle, nearer and nearer the beginning. It seems to be one of the kind smoothings and preparings of the way. My heart is touched now, by many remembrances that had long fallen asleep, of my pretty young mother (and I so old!), and by many associations of the days when what we call the World was not so real with me, and my faults were not confirmed in me”.
The greatest of writers are able to find things in the human heart where words are not enough. Except when truly felt.
The opening line of A Tale of Two Cities reminds me of where we find ourselves today.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …”