Arguably Charles Dickens’ most famous work, A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas, or simply A Christmas Carol as it’s more commonly known, has been adapted for film and television more times than any other Dickens piece.
After capitalizing on his original success, both in England and America, Charles’ last three books have flopped and he is in desperate need of a success. Struggling financially and personally with his marriage under strain and a fourth child on the way, he is inspired to write a Christmas story after eavesdropping on his children’s nanny reciting an old Irish fairy-tale to them. What follows is a race against time to have the book written, illustrated and published before Christmas to restore his somewhat battered reputation.
Utilising flashbacks and interaction with the characters from Charles’ imagination we discover the origins of the story and some of the characters we know so well. A doddery old waiter introduces himself as Marley, Charles’ own young nephew has a cough and a walking stick and his leech of a lawyer keeps numerous chains on his safe.
There’s an air of easiness to the film and a lightness of touch that invites the viewer to not take things too seriously but to pour a glass of mulled wine, grab a mince pie and enjoy the slightly pantomime feel to proceedings.
This is encouraged by Dan Stevens’ fine portrayal of Dickens. His complexity, arrogance, determination and insecurities are showcased with charm, a twinkle in the eye and mannerisms just this side of parody, which could have gone horribly wrong with a lesser actor, as Charles is forced to face his own ghosts.
Christopher Plummer brings a scowl and a touch of class to Ebenezer Scrooge and is suitably nasty as he plays a quick-fire word association game prompted by Dickens; Darkness? Cheap. Children? Useless. Workhouse? Useful. Love? Swindle. His response to Christmas, however, goes unanswered for the time being.
When the film attempts to become more dramatic, it doesn’t always hit the mark. The plight of young children going to the work houses, being used as chimney sweeps and having to endure bullying and horrific working conditions isn’t explored enough and doesn’t have the impact it should. Neither does the relationship thread between Charles and his wastrel father, played by an on form Jonathan Pryce, which feels like it was added into the story to fill up space rather than for any other reason.
The Man Who Invented Christmas is a perfectly nice film with a perfectly nice message, but doesn’t justify its title and isn’t quite Christmassy enough to become a staple of Yuletide’s essential viewing.