The Man Who Invented Christmas
Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Callow, Mariam Margolyes
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….richly-detailed British costume drama.
Charles Dickens, like his contemporary (and near neighbour in London) Karl Marx, saw the vicious inequality of Victorian society close up. It may seem odd to bracket them together, but where one tried to analyse the root causes, the other decided to use his immortal fictions to teach the hearts of millions.
This richly-detailed British costume drama takes a slice of Dickens’ life and weaves it in with the creation of one of his most successful books.
Small screen director Bharat Nalluri (Spooks) depicts bustling Victorian London with all its squalor and splendour come to life on the screen.
When we join Dickens (Dan Stevens), his treasured popularity is on the slide. His editor kindly reminds the author that he has had three flops in a row and the cost of furnishing his Georgian home is running away from him. Even his housekeeper (played by the ubiquitous character actor Miriam Margolyes) has trouble shielding him from his debtors and keeping the whole chaotic show on the road. Further, his father and mother have decided to gently freeload on the author’s diminishing bank balance. It is at this point that Charles thinks of the plot for A Christmas Carol. In what seems like a last roll of the dice he tells his reluctant publisher than he will bankroll the book himself and get it into the shops by Christmas. There is nothing like a deadline to concentrate the mind, but Charles is also chased by the real childhood memory of when his aforementioned feckless dad (Jonathan Pryce) was carted off to debtor’s prison in front of the horrified family.
Dickens was famously cartooned with his endless characters swirling around his head as if he was able to conjure them up for real. The film takes a risk here in having one of these characters – Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) – materialising and constantly having a debate with his creator. Whether this comes out as a good vehicle to explore the author’s creative processes, or just a clunky device, will depend a little bit on how much Christmas good cheer you are able to muster. To some this could be, dare one say, just humbug.
However, Plummer (who gets top billing in the credits) is in fine form here. Of course, it’s a plum part. Scrooge, with his catchphrase and memorable appearance, has become firmly embedded in the popular imagination. As is ever the case with Dickens, the seriousness, even earnestness of his message, gets heavily overlaid with his trademark sentimentality and there is plenty of that in evidence here too. But it suits the tale. Dickens is unkillable. No amount of Disneyfication, or BBC-dramadom seems to completely obliterate the power of his storytelling.