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Tale of many cities as Dickens anniversary nears

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Charles Dickens will be feted around the world next year in literature, film, theater, music and art, underlining his international cultural impact 200 years after his birth.

The author of classics like "Oliver Twist," "Great Expectations," "Bleak House" and "A Tale of Two Cities" is considered one of the greatest novelists to have written in English.

Sales of his books, which are still in print, run into hundreds of millions of copies, and during his lifetime his works were turned into theater.

With the advent of cinema in the late 19th century and television decades later, Dickens became the most adapted novelist of all time, with more than 100 films -- short and feature length -- made in the silent era alone.

"The prose style of Dickens is a foreshadowing of cinematic technique," said Michael Eaton, co-curator of what is billed as the largest retrospective of Dickens on screen ever staged.

Dickens on Screen, part of the broader, global Dickens 2012 initiative (www.dickens2012.org), will be held at the British Film Institute (BFI) in London from January to March 2012.

Movie adaptations will also be screened next year in the United States, Germany, the Philippines and China thanks to the state-funded cultural agency the British Council.

"When we think of all Dickens's extraordinary characters and nail-biting cliffhangers it is not surprising he's the most adapted author of all time," said Heather Stewart, the BFI's creative director.

Tapping its own archive, the BFI will screen a rarely seen silent work from 1901 called "Scrooge - or Marley's Ghost" and "David Copperfield" from 1913.

At the program's center will be David Lean's "Great Expectations" (1946) and "Oliver Twist" (1948), considered by many to be the greatest film versions of Dickens, as well as Carol Reed's popular, Oscar-winning musical "Oliver!" (1968).

NEW FILM, BOOKS, SHOWS

Five major television adaptations will be screened in their entirety, while director Mike Newell is making a film based on "Great Expectations" possibly for release next year.

"Dickens was my first adult author and he was very much my way into literature," said bestselling novelist David Nicholls, who wrote the screenplay for the new version.

"I certainly wouldn't be a writer if it hadn't been for Dickens."

Exhibitions dedicated to the Victorian author have already begun opening in Britain, with many more planned in the run-up to the bicentenary of his birth on February 7, 2012.

The Victoria and Albert Museum launched its display this week featuring the original manuscript of "David Copperfield."

The British Library is advertising "A Hankering after Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural" which opens on November 29, while on December 9 the Museum of London opens "Dickens and London."

Overseas shows include one at the Museum Strauhof in Zurich due to open in December and another at the Chateau D'Hardelot in northern France which was visited by the author many times.

The British Council has organized events in more than 50 countries from Armenia to Zimbabwe involving theater, film and educational programs.

Biographies have begun hitting book stores, including Claire Tomalin's "Charles Dickens: A Life" which was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards 2011, and Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's "Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist."

And the publishing house Penguin has produced a deluxe box-set of six clothbound Dickens novels costing 100 pounds ($160).

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