Director: Bharat Nalluri/2017
Nothing says “Christmas” as it relates to film than Ebenezer Scrooge and Charles Dickens’ beloved classic book, A Christmas Carol. The book has been reimagined for film so many times that it is impossible to count how many versions there truly are, not to mention variations that have updated it at bit. Screenwriter Susan Coyne, basing her screenplay on Les Standiford’s book of the same name, has found a way to bring us another version of this holiday classic and help it be fresh and new in the latest film, The Man Who Invented Christmas.
While this film is not an actual retelling of A Christmas Carol, it is the story of how its author, Charles Dickens, wrote the classic story, and how the various experiences of his life helped him shape the stories and characters that continue to be welcomed into the homes of people the world over who continue to read his words, or watch its many interpretations.
Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast (2017) plays Dickens, a man who is very famous, especially following Oliver Twist and a recent tour of America, but who has had 3 flops in a row. In addition to sagging book sales, his expenses continue to mount as his wife Kate (Morfyyd Clark) continually is fixing up the large house, and together they are having an increasingly growing family as Kate is pregnant again. Charles has also been paying for his father (Jonathan Pryce) and mother (Ger Ryan) to live in a home out of town, along with a living allowance. When his father and mother decide to show up at their son’s house for the holiday’s it couldn’t be at a worse time.
As Charles is handling the pressures at home, he is also trying to begin a new work with the encouragement of his friend, and unofficial manager, William Thackeray (Miles Jump), who is secretly covering loans for the slowly sinking, yet still wildly famous author. Charles’ latest idea is for a Christmas book that would expose the class warfare of the wealthy on the helpless poor. Fearing it may not be something they can sell, his book publishers are hesitant to put up any cash. Charles Dickens decides that he will self finance the book with a loan, and get original artwork done by noted artist John Leech (Simon Callow), despite the enormous expense.
Besides seeing the various inspirations for his famous characters, we also learn a little of Dickens’ own backstory of some traumatic experiences that shaped his life and effected his relationship with his father especially, but that also continues over to the one he has with his wife. Complicating that further is the way that Mr. Dickens goes about the creative process as he develops his characters in isolation, often holing himself up in his study away from everyone, or simply leaving the house with no indication of when he will return as he does his research.
For the purposes of this film, we literally see Charles Dickens speaking to the imaginary characters he is creating as they appear and interact with him in the room, until they, like the famous spirits of Christmas Eve are haunting Charles’ every moment as he seeks to discover where this story is heading. Playing the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge is the great Christopher Plummer, who gets a chance to not only portray this classic character in the scenes you will remember best from A Christmas Carol, but also as he stays in the character of Scrooge as he interacts with Charles Dickens.
On the whole, The Man Who Invented Christmas is harmless enough fun that is especially geared for the holiday season, but it isn’t more than a well-done television version of Charles Dickens’ classic tale with an angle on the author’s life that we haven’t seen before. It is a safe bet for most families, especially those who are familiar with A Christmas Carol, though it doesn’t seek to do anything particularly new.
As far as a biography piece, it provides enough backstory to have the bare minimum amount of tension to frame the classic tale, but not so much that we truly get to fully explore Charles Dickens’ character flaws and family conflicts that the story hints at. Instead, everything is written to help draw the classic tale out and give it a new life against the backdrop of the real-life events, people, and conversations that inspired its creation.
The Man Who Invented Christmas opens today over the Thanksgiving holiday, but it may be out of the theaters and on DVD for home viewing by the actual holiday it means to address in its story as it most likely won’t have much of a theatrical run. That is not so much a slam against the film as much as the reality that it is better suited to watch either on television or on DVD at home.