Cinema: What The Dickens!

Three films based on the master's novels crowd into theaters

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But the film belongs to Guinness. His boldness, precision and feline slyness make him an ideal Dickens interpreter (as he proved four decades ago in David Lean's versions of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist). No screen actor can so impose while doing almost nothing. But here he is one of the few characters allowed any expanse of personality: the man with a squire's manners in a debtors' prison, always "very much obleeged" by the commonest courtesy, then crushed by the confines of haut-monde hypocrisy. Guinness's William Dorrit matches his George Smiley as twin capstones of a grand career. He gets an old actor's most precious present -- to have a death scene on-camera -- and he almost takes Little Dorrit to heaven with him.

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