The last thing this world needs is another rendition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, likely the most remade, reimagined and ripped off literary property ever.
At the same time, the world would be poorer without seeing Ebenezer Scrooge interpreted by Christopher Plummer, an actor if not born to play the role then certainly, finely aged into it.
Plummer, soon to be 89, gets his chance in Bharat Nalluri’s The Man Who Invented Christmas, a movie also managing a welcome fresh approach to Dickens’ sentimental perennial. At last, the author takes center stage in his story, played charmingly by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens.
Using the fanciful aspects of Les Standiford’s well-researched book, Nalluri retells Scrooge’s tale in swatches paralleling the author’s creative process. Reality, memory and developing fiction entwine in Susan Coyne’s adapted screenplay, its magical realism a bit forced at times but always enchanting.
Dickens’ own past and present inform his book in surprising ways, pointing him toward posterity yet to come. His own financial straits after a string of literary flops inspire a story of money’s lesser importance than love. A pained childhood missed by Dickens’ wastrel father (Jonathan Pryce) haunts the author like one of Christmas’ ghosts.
Bluffing his way to a deadline, Dickens frantically searches for a story idea. Names like Marley and Fezziwig are heard and jotted for later. A moonlit graveyard paints a setting in Dickens’ mind; a scowling mourner sets the image of Scrooge. For a while, Tiny Tim will die.
Best of all, there’s Scrooge hectoring the blocked writer who’s word-wrestling with a voice in his head, a verbal amusement never fetching too far. Plummer’s dryly venomous line readings meet Stevens’ deference to amusing effect.
The Man Who Invented Christmas is Hallmark-card lovely to behold, with Nalluri’s team taking fine advantage of Victorian designs, fashion and snowfalls, framed with style by cinematographer Ben Smithard. Mychael Danna’s musical score occasionally hits the right sentimental notes when least needed, but, hey, it’s Christmas.
Coyne’s screenplay pays cursory attention to key reasons behind Standiford’s title. Christmas was indeed a wretched holiday in Dickens’ poverty-plagued time, and A Christmas Carol did become the first must-have gift for the occasion in 1843. The author invented holiday consumerism that doesn’t make for feel-good entertainment. Or haven’t you seen Jingle All the Way?
The Man Who Invented Christmas is good at its feel-iest, a beloved but stale tale retold with novelty while revealing an interesting rest of the story. Let’s hope it becomes a perennial like so many versions before, with Plummer’s Scrooge as a yearly gift.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.
The Man Who
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Cast: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Callow, Miriam Margolyes, Donald Sumpter, Justin Edwards, Morfydd Clark, Ger Ryan
Screenplay: Susan Coyne, based on the book by Les Standiford
Rating: PG; brief language, scary images
Running time: 104 min.