Before I go into my thoughts on this film, I will get out there the versions I recommend, which are, the 1984 version starring George C Scott as Scrooge, the 1999 version starring Sir Patrick Stewart as Scrooge, which is probably one of the most accurate adaptations out there. I would even recommend some of the more ‘off the wall’ ones, like, for as much as it seems a stupid idea, The Muppets Christmas Carol is surprisingly faithful to the book and a pretty good adaptation, all things considered. Also, the 2009 Jim Carey version was actually very accurate to the book and included several parts of the book that had not made it into many adaptations. Though that was also aided by the fact that it was directed by Robert Zemeckis, who does brilliant work with motion capture.
The Man Who Invented Christmas peaked my interest because it sort of tells the untold story behind the book, which I will get into more detail about in my review, but it’s kind of fascinating and as a fan of the book I thought that I really needed to see this film, so I decided to break my rule about Christmas movies and give it a shot and I am not really breaking it as technically this is kind of an adaptation of A Christmas Carol.
The film is directed by Bharat Nalluri, who has been nominated for a prime time Emmy, though he has mostly done TV work, having directed episodes like Torchwood and Life of Mars, though he has some feature film credits, such as, the film version of MI5 and Miss Peregrew Lives for a Day, films which I won’t claim to have seen as well as a recent TV movie Mars Project. The Man Who Invented Christmas is clearly his most ambitious project yet, so, how does he handle it?
The Man Who Invented Christmas is obviously the story of Charles Dickens, (played by Dan Stevens) going through a mid-life crisis. After being in America following the success of Oliver Twist and being hailed like a rock star, he has come home and failed to capitalise on a follow-up, having had a couple of flops afterwards. However, on a walk home, after promising a new book in order to get himself out of his rising debt, he gains inspiration when he accidentally ends up wandering into a funeral where the only attendee is one grumpy old man and the man being buried had no friends in life to take care of him in his last days. Struck by several inspirations, he develops the story of A Christmas Carol and as he begins to develop his characters they start coming to life and he begins to develop the story alongside his creation, Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Christopher Plummer). That’s a very basic telling of the story, but yes, that is kind of the drift of it.
My biggest advise with this one is, if you are going in expecting a simple movie, you are not getting it. The Man Who Invented Christmas is rather complex in a nutshell. It’s kind of bold and brash actually, all things considered. It feels a rather modern film in a sense. If you are not familiar with A Christmas Carol and have only seen snippets of it then you won’t get the same amount pleasure out of the film as someone who is familiar with it, since the film is rather under the assumption that you have seen other adaptions, or better yet, read the book. Since there are several moments where several characters quoting book dialogue. In fact, there are actually quite a few references. I would highly recommend seeing at least one version of A Christmas Carol before seeing this, preferably one of the few I mentioned earlier as those ones were the ones that were closer to the book, with the obvious exceptions being The Muppets version. I would say though, air a word of caution with the 1984 version and the most popular version, the Alistair Sim version since both of those tend to twist book dialogue and add a lot of additional scenes that weren’t in the book and you may be asking why the film didn’t reference something that it was never going to reference in the first place.
The film is more about Charles Dickens confronting his life in a sense. A Christmas Carol was a very stressful experience for him since he was up to his eyeballs in debt, he was having to self-publish the book since his actual publishers didn’t believe they could publish the book in time. He had to borrow money left, right and centre and he had another child on the way. The film examines a couple of his relationships. The major one to talk about being his father John played by Jonathan Pryce, though we get a couple of scenes with his wife Kate, played by Morfydd Clark and his live in servant Tara played by Anna Murphy, who takes a fascination in reading, particularly his books and also doubles up to serve as his inspiration for the ghost of Christmas past, which is one of the minor nit pics of deviations the film has since the book has a much more fantastical image of what the ghost of Christmas past looks like. In fact, it’s actually one of the few times that the Muppets film was probably one of the closest that came to the book. Trust me, if you have read the book it makes a lot more sense, though the 2009 version probably was technically the closest. Now that tangent is out of the way!
I really like all the relationships that it explored, it’s at times genuinely touching, it’s seeing a man go through his creative experiences, he has a great idea, but needs to get it out and he is doing everything in his power to do it. While there is definitely the fear of going bankrupt, I think it’s also more of a fear of him failing that I get a sense of. It is also essentially his relationship with his creations, though, he rarely interacts with Scrooge all that much, which really leads me to my biggest nit pic of the film. Let me just say this right now, Christopher Plummer is one of the best things about this film and he does make a good Ebenezer Scrooge, I have no doubt in my mind about that, in fact, I could definitely see him play the character in a straight adaptation. However, I don’t think the writers have quite got Scrooge. The best versions of Scrooge are not exactly mean spirited in a sense. A lot of people make the mistake of believing Scrooge is a wicked and mean man, he is not, he is just a sad and dejected man who is afraid of the world, and has a particular dislike for Christmas considering that most of the worst events of his life have taken place around that time of the year. These include him being left at boarding school, his fiancé leaving him and his best friend dying. However, this Scrooge is more confrontational more than anything else, it serves the plot part well, but it feels like at times, Christopher Plummer is going in and out of playing Scrooge and just another character. That being said, when he is playing Scrooge, he is fantastic in the role and this is a very good version of the character. Obviously it can’t explore all the avenues of the character, that was pretty obvious because this is not an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, but the one thing the films gets is not only what made the book so good, but they really manage to inject the essence of the story into this one since we get a lot of reveals about Charles Dickens past that not a lot of people are aware of and particularly why he is one of the few writers around that time that were writing about the poorer members of society. We also see his inspiration for characters like Marley and the ghost of Christmas present, and of course, he faces that massive thing that anyone who has tried to write a book gets, ‘writers block’ and they seem to visualise all of these stages brilliantly.
The reason why A Christmas Carol kind of works so well is because Charles Dickens wasn’t just at the time writing about a man confronting his past, present and potential future, he was living that at the time, so doing a story like this actually kind of works. As a result, it’s just a brilliant story. You get a sense of everything that poured into his story and why it is a classic, that we are still talking about adapting over a hundred years after its creation. It never feels cynical, that’s what I like about this film, but it never tries to not tackle heavy projects, and that’s really my thing, this is not a family film, it’s actually quite a dark film all things considered. But I would recommend double billing this film with A Christmas Carol at the same time, since it works pretty well, though I would recommend doing it with one of the more faithful adaptations than one of the more goofier ones.
If there is one area where this film succeeded however, it was not only just brilliant story-telling, it was its brilliant acting. The cast is just brilliant with the cream of the British crop signing up to be in the film, including Jonathan Pryce of Game of Thrones and Pirates of the Caribbean fame, Simon Callow, Miriam Margolyes, Donald Sumpter, Bill Paterson, Miles Jupp, Justin Edwards, and Ian McNeice, whose casting felt extra brilliant for me since he also played Fezziwig in the 1999 adaptation of A Christmas Carol and he is probably one of the better actors to portray that part. Everyone gives brilliant performances, but the stand-out ones by far include Christopher Plummer who gives an amazing performance in this film and in terms of the way he is described in the book, Christopher Plummer probably is one of the closest live action actors to look like the way Ebenezer Scrooge is described in the book, not counting Jim Carey’s motion capture performance considering he had the aid of digital effects to look like the character. But by far the best performance is by Dan Stevens in the role of Charles Dickens, who is probably giving one of the best performances of his career. He seriously for me, has redeemed himself after the terrible Beauty and the Beast remake. He can make you laugh an feel real emotion within the same scene and he delivers some of the best lines of the entire movie and does them all brilliantly.
Does the film have issues?
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