THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS. Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Callow, Morfydd Clark, and Miriam Margolyes. Directed by Bharat Nalluri. Rated PG (Mild themes).104 min.
This Canadian-Irish-American movie depicts the creative journey that led to the writing of Charles Dickens’ much-loved classic, “A Christmas Carol”.
This movie goes behind the magic of Dickens’ story to tell us about the tension and turbulence that helped create his famous tale. Such an approach characterised the 2017 movie, “Goodbye Christopher Robin”, which told us how A.A. Milne came to write about the fantasy of his son’s toy bears. In this film, we learn in particular about Charles Dickens’ creation of Ebenezer Scrooge. The film is not a movie based on a famous book. Rather, it tells us about what lay behind writing the book in the first place. A movie of such a kind has appeal for both adults and children.
Most of the film takes place in Dickens’ study where the characters, Dickens is imagining, start talking and interacting with him. Dickens begins to imagine his characters, while writing about them. Dan Stevens plays Dickens; Jonathan Price plays Dickens’ well-meaning father; and Morfydd Clark plays his loving and understanding wife, Kate. A variety of veteran British actors (such as Simon Callow and Miriam Margolyes) convey Dickensian characters, just as Dickens might describe them if he wrote about them - eccentric, odd-looking, and warmly engaging.
The movie focuses attention on Charles Dickens in the year of 1843, when Dickens was disappointed that his work was failing to arouse the excitement of his readership public. He had experienced three failures in a row. With his wife expecting a fifth child, Dickens faced financial hardship, and he responded to the crisis by creating “A Christmas Carol”. Dickens wrote his novel in six weeks and published it himself, while depressed and agitated. He found success again, when “A Christmas Carol” became one of his best loved works.
The film gives informative insights about the background of “A Christmas Carol”, and how Dickens’ story came to life. It imaginatively suggests that Dickens conjured up visions of his characters that were emboldened by his writing. Once he had identified his characters, they haunted Dickens’ waking moments, pressuring him to write about them in time.
The movie assumes some familiarity with “A Christmas Carol”, and we are introduced specifically to the character of Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) in some detail. The film is essentially a portrait of an author on the verge of a nervous breakdown, mixing vivid imagination with real-life happenings to conjure up extraordinary characters, like Scrooge and “The Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come”. It intriguingly shows us Scrooge urging Dickens to write a book with him in it as quickly as he can, almost as if Scrooge was a device to push Dickens to hurry up. The film imaginatively bridges the reality of life surrounding Dickens, and the nature of the characters that his ideas were creating. It is a story within a story, and it brings characters like Ebenezer Scrooge vibrantly to life in an interesting way.
The movie celebrates the spirit of Christmas by showing that goodness is far better than meanness. Dickens himself starts to take on the some of Scrooge’s characteristics before he decides to “write” Scrooge out of his meanness so as to allow him in print to discover goodness and generosity. As a device it works very well, and it cleverly conveys the spirit of good Christmas cheer. Dan Stevens is excellent as Dickens, and Christopher Plummer realises the character of Scrooge, delightfully. Scrooge is sly, mean, and comic, and his conversion to goodness makes Christmas a happy time for his author and for others, including Dickens’ reading public.
This is an intelligently crafted, family-friendly film. It links Dickens to the emotional journey he undertook in writing his book; reinforces the power of his novel; but also humanises his work by telling us very enjoyably about the influences of the people around Dickens at the time.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released November 30th., 2017