"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 had 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, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
Charles Dickens' 1859 classic, 'A Tale Of Two Cities' had provided sophomores "a real literary work out in running down a complicated plot to the very end. It also afforded many opportunities to make character sketches, and to see the plot being worked out against a Revolutionary period in the history of France. Being a novel the technique of this type of literature was paralleled with the short story and studied to show likenesses and differences in the two forms."
Charles Dickens had met Thomas Carlyle in 1840. Around 1845 to 1848, he had spoken to Jules Michelet, Victor Hugo and Louis Blanc. On July 25 1846, Charles Dickens wrote to John Forster, "I have been thinking this last day or two that good Christmas characters might be grown out of a man imprisoned (*) for 10 or 15 years; his imprisonment being the gap between the people and the circumstances of the second, and the ruin changed mind."
(*) It was understood Charles Dickens' father was imprisoned for debt.
In 1857, Charles' Dickens read Thomas Carlyle's 1837 book, 'The French Revolution: A History' and decided to pen 'A Tale of Two Cities'. Installment of Charles Dickens' novel first appeared in the weekly magazine 'All the Year Round' between April and November 1859. 'A Tale Of Two Cities', G.K. Chesterton remarked, "In dignity and eloquence it almost stands alone...but it also stands alone among his books in this respect, that it is not entirely by Dickens. It owes its inspiration avowedly to the passionate and cloudy pages of Carlyle's French Revolution."
In 1980, Chris Sarandon played the dual role of Charles Darnay and his look-alike Sydney Carton in the CBS movie, 'A Tale of Two Cities'. At first, Chris recounted, "I said, 'Oh, no, not that old chestnut. I guess it's because it's been around so long and was crammed down our throats in high school. I got hooked as soon as I read the script. Then I went out and bought the book, and I was devastated. Dickens wrote it as a serial with all the cliffhangers, but it does have a certain kind of discipline, I think there may have been two reasons for that. Thomas Carlyle's 'The French Revolution' had a profound effect on him. And Dickens, who had a mistress, was breaking up with his wife. He was going through a strong emotional crisis. I think the intellectual influence of Carlyle and his emotional stress combined to make a very satisfying book."
Jean-Pierre Aumont played Dr Manette in the 1989 version of 'A Tale Of Two Cities' acknowledged, "It is a huge book and I had never read it. It took me many days to get through it, but it was worth it." Chris remembered, "It was my first dual role and it was very difficult because of the complexity and such a short shooting schedule. We had two long and complicated scenes where I had to play both characters. Darnay was very vertical, upright, aristocratic. If you feel those clothes on your body you can't help but stand erect. Carton is more compressed, more pushed in and weighted down. He was a bit of an alcoholic, a bit of a reprobate. He was always played in the past as dashing, but he was really pathetic."
The 1980 TV movie was filmed in London and in the streets of Senlis, France. The 1989 mini-series was filmed in Manchester, England and Bordeaux, France. Jean-Pierre explained, "I don’t think they could have done it in Paris. They had to find a place where the streets had not changed." Chris added, "The Bastille no longer exists, so we used a military academy. It's always wonderful to work in a place like that. It gives you a real sense of being thrown back in time. In a studio you have to pull it out of yourself as you walk through a door that's braced by a 2-and-4 on the other side."
Also in 1980, Paul Shelley played the dual role Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton in the BBC version of 'A Tale Of Two Cities'. The BBC mini-series was filmed in London and the Isle of Jersey. Paul was trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. In 1980, Paul was performing on stage with his students at the University of Texas. Paul told the press, "England has no such programs for professionals to act with students. One can teach more in two minutes on stage than in an hour in the classroom (*). It's a wonderful idea which I hope to introduce in drama schools back home."
(*) Paul elaborated, "The need for energy on stage. There is the energy needed when you come on: the energy when you're there; and the energy to come off again. Energy can take many forms on stage. It doesn't necessarily mean moving around all the time, or being loud or too eager. It can be just standing still. But there must be a kind of something that vibrates within the actor while he is on. You can't teach that unless you actually go on the stage and do it.
"I think sometimes the student or amateur is under-energized in a way the professional is not. Maybe a professional feels the need to earn his money. After all, there is the need to earn the crust to live, and if you come on half dead you will not be paid. That's what drives most professionals, I think. The need to live, to be there and be meaningful. So they come on naturally with energy. Of course, a professional knows where to find it, even if he isn't feeling too good. I think that is the primary thing that's impossible to teach in the classroom, but it's something that might rub off while I'm on stage with the students."
Paul Shelley was one of the few actors who had performed in all 3 branches of his craft – on stage, in feature films and on television. Paul clarified, "Film and TV technique are even more difficult than theater. They are so disjointed – shot out of sequence – and require a lot of practice. Feature film is a director's medium. The demand on the actor is simply to serve up everything the director wants and then leave a kind of rough cut in his hands.
"Most TV acting is not too different. That's why I think it's a good thing for all actors to keep going back to the theater. That's where they can sort of rummage around inside themselves and find things they might well be able to use in their TV and film work. You can bring your life into the theater, if only in a small way. The lines and certain moves are established, but within these bounds there is total, total freedom for the inside of youself, which no one can dominate, because theater is contantly changing, living thing. That's what makes it so real, so attractive and so important."