The 10 Best Movies and TV Shows Inspired by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens is known for his books—but those books have been adapted to film and television many times. Here are the best ones.

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Charles Dickens was among the most prolific authors of the 19th century, alongside contemporaries like Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen. He’s widely known—by kids and adults alike—for his detailed stories chock-full of eccentric characters (and a bit of the supernatural).

Writing from his own experiences, Dickens’ canon mainly focuses on subjects like class divide, urban poverty, and the social degradation in Europe at the time. Somehow, all of these are still relevant today.

From time-traveling ghosts to coming-of-age bildungsromans, there’s something for everyone in Dickens’ literary worlds that have been connecting with readers for generations—and, naturally, filmmakers have translated many of them into movies and TV shows.

Here are our picks for the best movies and TV shows that are directly adapted from or heavily inspired by Charles Dickens.

10. The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012)

The Mystery of Edwin Drood truly is a mystery, as Dickens unfortunately passed away before he could complete it.

With only six of the planned twelve installments published, writers and filmmakers have been creating their own endings to the story for decades. Our favorite is Diarmuid Lawrence’s adaptation of the unfinished novel, a delightful little BBC miniseries from 2012.

Freddie Fox stars as Edwin, the nephew of an opium-addicted choirmaster, who’s engaged to one of his uncle’s students. Annoyingly, his uncle John Jasper (played by Matthew Rhys) is in love with her too.

A thrilling and supple script that’s marvelously acted, this brooding tale is a good introduction to the complex world of Dickens.

9. A Christmas Carol (1951)

A Christmas Carol is one of the most adapted stories in cinema history. As of this writing, there have been an estimated 135 movies! So, of course, at least one of them had to appear on this list.

And while Robert Zemeckis’ 2009 animation is a solid watch, we’re going this black-and-white classic for more sophisticated viewers. You know the story: three spirits come to haunt the cold-hearted businessman into redemption. Bah! Humbug!

Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella was translated to screen by Brian Desmond Hurst in the 1950s, starring Alastair Sim as the “tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge!”

8. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

Charles Dickens didn’t literally invent Christmas, but he did redefine it. The Victorian era essentially built the blueprint for today’s traditional family Christmas: decorated trees, roasted chestnuts, and generous amounts of holiday spirit.

Dickens reinforced these values through his allegorical tales of Scrooge, who rediscovers the true meaning of Christmas. (While penning this famous story, Dickens was actually in the midst of a financial crisis due to his three books most recent books being flops.)

Dan Stevens stars as the legendary author, who was inspired by his own father when creating the character of Scrooge. Based on Les Standiford’s 2008 book and directed by Bharat Nalluri, The Man Who Invented Christmas treads a steady line between comedy and drama.

7. Great Expectations (2011)

Here’s another Dickens tale that’s been adapted numerous times to film and TV, and this one’s classically haunting.

Our pick features Douglas Booth, Gillian Anderson, and Ray Winstone, so what’s not to love? The British adore a good BBC miniseries, which perfectly matches Dickens’ vibe as a figure of great cultural importance.

Brian Kirk’s three-parter takes us along the misty moors of London’s marshland, where orphaned young Pip grows up to be a gentleman. Oh, and there’s also a creepy spinster who walks around in old bridalwear.

A melancholy saga featuring some of Dickens’ most atmospheric scenes, Great Expectations is more than just a story to learn at school.

6. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

If you’re a fan of the musical but find that Ronald Neame’s Scrooge from 1970 is a bit too dated for you, why not try this fun-filled family gem?

The Muppets take on Christmas with their rendition of A Christmas Carol, featuring Michael Caine as the bitter old Ebenezer Scrooge. Surprisingly true to the original book, Brian Henson’s fantasy flick is narrated by Gonzo as if he were Charles Dickens himself.

Alongside him is Rizzo, who humorously takes us on a journey through past, present, and future. All your favorite Jim Henson puppets make an appearance in this witty, heartwarming adaptation that’s peppered with musical numbers and cheesy gags.

5. The Invisible Woman (2013)

Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in this very British biopic based on Claire Tomalin’s 1990 novel The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens.

Nelly was a young actress who caught the author’s eye during a performance at London’s Haymarket Theatre. In this film, she’s played by Felicity Jones. Despite their age gap, the two end up in a volatile but loving relationship.

The couple’s affair was practically wiped from the history books—hence Nelly being dubbed “invisible”—as Dickens burnt all evidence of their correspondence. When traces of it resurfaced, scholars were quick to study this hidden corner of history.

Ralph Fiennes handles the story with extreme delicacy and grace, presenting us a subtle, emotive, and expertly cinematic drama.

4. Scrooged (1988)

This is the last Scrooge film on the list, we promise! Although in this one, he isn’t called Scrooge—he’s called Frank.

Frank Cross is a cynical and materialistic TV executive in charge of IBC’s production of A Christmas Carol. But as you can guess from the title, Frank finds himself “Scrooged” by three ghosts, too.

Bill Murray puts his own Bill Murray spin on the famously selfish protagonist, able to make viewers laugh with even the simplest of facial expressions. Richard Donner’s frantic modern retelling is bursting with energy and wit as it explores Frank’s own weird experiences.

Scrooged avoids showering its audience with too much sentimentality, meaning it’s that much more effective when it wraps up.

3. Dickensian (2015)

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Here’s one for the truest of true Dickens fans. A wholly unique and original concept, this BBC series combines all your favorite Dickens characters into one brilliant show.

In the style of the author’s own writing—who loved to interweave myriad characters—Dickensian has the protagonists of one book crossing paths with those from another in one big Victorian web.

Creator Tony Jordan has Inspector Bucket from Bleak House investigate the murder of Scrooge’s old partner Jacob Marley. And who should he happen across? Well, everyone—from Bill Sikes to Miss Havisham.

With its beautiful 19th century setting studded with beloved characters, Dickensian went down a treat with UK viewers.

2. Oliver! (1968)

A classic musical that pretty much everyone on the planet has seen, Oliver! is also a popular West End stage play, bringing one of Dickens’ earlier novels to life with pizzazz.

Winner of six Academy Awards, Carol Reed gifts us with famous musical numbers like “Food Glorious Food” and “Consider Yourself,” all sang with that singular Cockney accent. Mark Lester plays the title role of a young orphan who escapes the workhouse to become a street urchin.

Step into the grime, violence, and hardship of Dickens’ Victorian London as it’s soothed over by joyous singing and dancing. Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, and Oliver Reed also star.

1. The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

If you’ve ever read 1849’s David Copperfield, you know that it’s a chunky read—a Victorian bible of tissue-thin paper and tiny font.

Luckily, Armando Iannucci’s adaptation manages to scale it down into a digestible two-hour movie without losing any of Dickens’ flavor or character development. Plus, it’s so pretty!

A poppy color palette and diversified cast make The Personal History of David Copperfield a pleasure to watch, brilliantly led by Dev Patel.

The coming-of-age tale accompanies David through evil stepfathers, factory jobs, boxing matches, and sea storms—all with optimistic flourish. Aneurin Barnard, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, and Ben Whishaw are also among the great ensemble cast.

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