The Man Who Invented Christmas (PG)
Rating: 4 / 5
A Christmas Carol is one of 19th century English author Charles Dickens’ greatest books. Yet its creation came at a time when life was less than rosy for young Charles Dickens, his wife, four children and dependent parents.
The Man Who Invented Christmas is a fascinating invention of its own, imagining the daily life of Dickens at this difficult time of life, but based on meticulous research. While it is a specially created story, based on the book of the same name by Les Standiford, it is totally believable and hooks the viewer in immediately.
As the film opens, we see Dickens at his wits’ end for an idea for a new book, especially as his latest one wasn’t a huge success. Coupled with his personal situation is the fact that celebrating Christmas seems to have gone out of fashion, and, with it, the general spirit of generosity we expect at this season.
Dickens was a typical writer, keenly observing everything around him for ideas and people for his next creation.
Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens is an inspired choice for the young Dickens, portraying him as charming yet irascible, with a quick wit but haunted by the demons of his childhood (due to his father’s frequent spells in the debtors’ prison, young Charles became a child slave labourer in a factory).
We see plenty of flashbacks to his childhood horrors, and meet his lovable but fiscally irresponsible father John (Jonathan Pryce), as Dickens goes on a journey of gradual acceptance of the horrors of his childhood caused by John Dickens, eventually embracing his father’s flawed character.
A chance graveside meeting with an old curmudgeon (Christopher Plummer) creates the character of Scrooge in Dickens’ mind, and for the rest of the film Scrooge pops in, sometimes to berate Dickens to get on with his book and other times as a muse in Dickens’ head. Plummer is terrific in this role, and has some hilarious one-liners.
Star Dan Stevens is a fervent advocate for the power of Dickens’ famous story, saying, “A Christmas Carol permeates the culture in a way that no other Christmas story does—except the Nativity itself.”
That sums up the power of the story, and the screen adaptation does it proud.
When writing, Dickens did carry on conversations with his characters, and this is brought to life so well in this film.
Dickens specialists, actors Simon Callow and Miriam Margolyes, pop up in secondary roles and add to the film’s authenticity and gravitas.
What elevates this film from a pleasant fantasy to an absorbing biopic are the very real scenes of Dickens’ father being carted off to prison, and the many scenes of Dickens as a child, terrified and traumatised by his work in the factory.
Dickens’ aficionados will love the way the famous phrases and names work their way into the film, and the result is a true Christmas cracker of a movie.
Highlight: Dan Stevens’ and Christopher Plummer’s superb performances
Red flags: Some scary scenes of child labour in the factory