I can’t even begin to recount the endless number of film, TV and stage projects that have tried to bring Charles Dickens’ immortal yuletide classic A Christmas Carol to life. From Alastair Sim’s textbook portrayal to the likes of Bill Murray, Jim Carrey, Albert Finney, the Muppets and even Mr. Magoo, you might think you’ve seen it all, but now along comes a complete original and a breath of fresh air to the saga of Ebeneezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.
In this version, a real gift this season, we get the origin story of how Dickens — enjoying almost rock-star status in 1843 — invented his now-immortal tale after experiencing a career drought and severe writer’s block. Under great pressure to produce another gem, Dickens (played perfectly by a drolly frustrated Dan Stevens) even resorts to being forced to self-publish the book since no one in charge seemed to like the idea of a Christmas story. The holiday itself was said to be in a slump as well, so the combination of Dickens and Christmas really needed each other.
Into his head pops a boatload of characters born out of real-life encounters, but none more notable than Scrooge, who’s played to the hilt by a terrific Christopher Plummer, who gets to badger and bother Dickens with suggestions about how his story should be written. Watching these fictional characters turn up on the scene to alternately irritate and inspire the famed author is pure delight, making for a truly wonderful, amusing, clever and irresistible holiday charmer.
As I say in my video review above this is a Christmas Carol we haven’t seen before, and we can thank screenwriter Susan Coyne for the witty words based on Les Standiford’s well-researched book. Director Bharat Nalluri brings just the perfect light touch to this period piece, which could go dark quickly in the wrong hands. He makes fun the order of the day.
Having a great cast doesn’t hurt, and Stevens is ideal as a young Dickens who lets fame go to his head until he replaces it with Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit and all the others in an inspiration that would become his greatest triumph. Plummer fits the “bah humbug” spirit of it all to a tee and doesn’t miss a beat. Also very fine is Jonathan Pryce as his down-on-his-luck father, who nevertheless unlocks a key moment from Dickens’ past that enables him to tell this tale as well as he does. Simon Callow, Miriam Margolyes, Bill Paterson, Donald Sumpter, Anna Murphy as his muse and Morfydd Clark add to merriment, with Clark playing Dickens’ very pregnant wife who tries to keep him grounded even as they expect their fifth child in the middle of all of this.
Production values are first rate in the film produced by Niv Fichman, Vadim Jean, Robert Mickelson, Susan Mullen and Ian Sharples. Bleecker Street releases it on several hundred screens today. If this doesn’t put you in the spirit of the season, I don’t know what will.
Do you plan to see The Man Who Invented Christmas? Let us know what you think.