Released 22nd November
Seen 26th November
Directed by Bharat Nalluri
Written by Susan Coyne, Les Standiford
Produced by Mazur/Kaplan Company, Mob Film Company, Parallel Films, Rhombus Media
Starring Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce & Miriam Margolyes
Adaptations of A Christmas Carol were dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of their burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Studios signed it: Those adaptations were as dead as a door-nail.
The last time I saw a decent adaptation of A Christmas Carol was when it starred Muppets, after that version it’s hard for someone else to come along with something new because everyone’s done this story. If you have a TV show and you have to do a Christmas episode then the chances are good that you’re going to do A Christmas Carol. Flintstones did it, Bug Bunny did it, The Smurfs did it. Everybody did it. Hell, since Muppet Christmas Carol there have been 5 feature film adaptations of the story alone and I believe the only one of those anyone even remotely cared about was the Jim Carrey version in 2009. It’s a tale that’s been done to death so how could someone make it new again? Simple… throw the author into the story itself.
Taking Charles Dickens (played here by Dan Stevens) and having him as the lead is already an interesting twist, but allowing us to see the story of Ebenezer Scrooge (Played by Christopher Plummer) through the eyes of his creator is a fascinating twist on the classic that breathes new life into it. It ends up telling two stories at the same time, the first being that of the classic novel itself and the second being about the author at his lowest moment after a succession of flops that have taken him from the highs of Oliver Twist to a desperate man buried in debt. He spends the entire film desperately trying to finish this story in 6 weeks and in the process ends up going through a similar transformation that Ebenezer goes through, and it’s enchanting.
Very few stories pack the emotional punch that A Christmas Carol does but in recent years the emotional punch of something like Tiny Tim’s passing doesn’t hit as hard because we have seen it before. This is where The Man Who Invented Christmas absolutely thrives because it allows us to experience that punch again when we have to witness the first people reading the early drafts, the drafts where Tiny Tim does die and it’s powerful. We have to witness a version of Ebenezer who was never going to change no matter what he is shown. The audience’s knowledge of the story is used to play them like a fiddle, pulling the rug out as we watch Charles Dickens taking the story a way we don’t know, a way we didn’t expect and we hope that he’ll manage to get the tale done in time. We get to see the stress and panic that went into creating this tale, the toll it takes on Dickens and the memories it pulls up from his days in the workhouse. I genuinely didn’t know about that portion of Dickens’ life but here it is, presented as backstory and something he must handle in order to finish his novel. Really, apart from the opening scene in America which just feels tacked on pointlessly, the movie uses everything it has in order to retell and reinvent the classic tale.
I would also like to suggest that this version of Ebenezer Scrooge be put up there with some of the best of them, I may enjoy it almost as much as I enjoy Michael Caine’s version. Christopher Plummer clearly seems to relish every second of his performance, getting to embrace the dark side of this character and his contempt for his own creator is a perfect fit for this part. I also really appreciate the nods to other works of Dickens, it’s a treasure trove for people who know the story to witness the tiny elements as they happen and its presentation is just right. It’s the exact right way to adapt this classic story in a fresh manner, one that deserves as much praise as it can reasonably handle.
I guess all there really is that can be said is… God bless us, everyone.