Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl is probably the saddest story ever written, and these two adaptations of it are suitably bleak.
The Little Match Seller, directed in 1902 by Percy Nash, is a masterpiece of minimalism. A single static shot of a young homeless girl in the snow, it makes great use of overlays/double exposures as she dreams of some heat and warmth and maybe even a smidgen of Christmas cheer. But of course there is none to be found.
It’s less than four minutes long, and utterly heartbreaking.
The second version, this time called The Little Match Girl, was directed by James Williamson in 1914. This one is a more elaborate affair, and piles on even more misery by including an alcoholic father and an absent, possibly dead, mother.
There’s some nice use of tinting here, which gives a fairly brutal sense of cold and genuine warmth to the relevant scenes, and the staging of the dreams is well done (although the animated turkey is both slightly strange and strangely unsettling). But though I liked it a lot, overall it lacks something compared to the economical poetry of the earlier version.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
1. I watched the 1902 version on youtube.
2. And the 1914 version on the BFI Player.
3. And you can read the original story here.
4. If you dare.
5. The 1914 version has Dutch intertitles. I’ve made some rough translations below (using google translate rather than any actual understanding of the language, so they might be wildly out):
2. On Christmas Eve
3. "Not a single bunch sold so far."
4. "Daddy will hit me."
5. Her father's daily abode.
6. If only she had her mother again.
7. "Did you bring me a lot of money?"
8. "Get out! And don't you dare come back without some money!"
9. "Would you like some matches, Sir?"
12. "Let me light just one match to keep me warm."
13. What she dreamed as she lit the second match.
14. "Just one more, because it's so terribly cold!"
15. "Take me with you, Mother. Don't leave me again!"
16. Christmas Morning - rest now, forever.
Title: The Little Match Seller
Director: James Williamson
Duration: 3 minutes
Title: The Little Match Girl
Director: Percy Nash
Duration: 10 minutes
Watch: BFI Player; youtube