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The British Film Institute has uncovered the world’s oldest surviving Dickensian film, The Death of Poor Joe, the day after the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth.

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The discovery was made by BFI silent film curator Bryony Dixon whose research has revealed this to be the earliest film made featuring a Dickensian character.

Until now the earliest known Dickens film was believed to be Scrooge or Marley’s Ghost (1901), currently on nationwide release from the BFI National Archive and it remains the earliest direct adaptation.

Ms Dixon was actually researching early films of China when she noticed a catalogue entry referring to a film called The Death of Poor Joe which she instantly realised could be a reference to a character in the novel Bleak House.

Archivists routinely check for any surviving copies of films they have come across as a title reference with little hope that the film actually survives as the majority of films made in this period have been destroyed.

“It’s wonderful to have discovered such a rare and unique film so close to Dickens’ bicentennial,” she said. “Not only does it survive but it is the world’s earliest Dickensian film!

“It looks beautiful and is in excellent condition. This really is the icing on the cake of our current celebration of Dickens on Screen.”

The film will be screened as a special late addition to the programme of Dickens: Pre-1914 Short Films on March 9 and 23 at BFI Southbank.

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