Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is as timeless as stories come because its themes are universal and forever. Greed, lack of awareness of the consequences of our actions, and redemption are ubiquitous. It’s impossible to read or watch A Christmas Carol and not want to do something charitable or even just a small act to improve someone’s day. As a result, it’s the redemption angle that rings most powerful; the untouchable hope that there is good in everyone. The Man Who Invented Christmas, a beautifully shot and lively – if topical – film focuses exclusively on the Fall and Winter of 1843, when a suddenly struggling Dickens is racking his brain for an idea – and another hit. While certainly not a new Christmas classic (those barely ever come around), it is a largely enjoyable experience that succeeds in rousing the Christmas spirit.
The year is 1842 and author Charles Dickens (Stevens) is on top of the world. Still riding a wave of success after Oliver Twist, he’s touring the U.S. to packed houses and enthusiastic fans. Fast forward eighteen months and things aren’t so rosy. After a string of flops, Dickens feels his career and legacy might be in jeopardy. Taking a big risk, Dickens decides to set his new story idea around Christmas. Drawing from his own life as well as observations made in the darker corners of London, he begins to piece together what would eventually become A Christmas Carol.
The Man Who Invented Christmas takes a fairly lightweight approach to this material. Complicated topics such as Dickens’s strained relationship with his father, who left him at a workhouse at a young age, are dealt with just enough to keep the narrative moving. It undoubtedly played a large part in many of A Christmas Carol‘s themes. Where screenwriter Susan Coyne, adapting from Les Standiford’s book, really hits pay dirt is in the chaotic visualizations of an author’s mind. Working under a tight deadline, Dickens was under a great deal of stress to finish the book. His interactions with his own characters, including a wonderfully morbid Scrooge (Plummer), are highlights. Coyne also maintains the darker elements of A Christmas Carol, ratcheting up a few creeps with the ghosts of Past, Present, and Future. Bharat Nalluri shows a confident hand in his direction, beautifully framing shots of old London and giving it an effervescent glow. Dan Stevens, in the lead role, carries the film with an energetic performance that successfully alternates between playful and frazzled.
While The Man Who Invented Christmas doesn’t beg for re-watches like the most beloved films of the season, it is a fine companion piece to whichever of the million adaptations of A Christmas Carol one might prefer. It’s spirited in its execution and the final ten minutes or so elicit the same warm feelings as Dickens’s classic. As we all learned from that timeless story, that’s what matters in the end.
Studio: Bleecker Street Media
Length: 104 Minutes
Rating: PG for thematic elements and some mild language.
Theatrical Release: November 22, 2017
Directed by: Bharat Nalluri
Written by: Susan Coyne. Based upon the book by Les Standiford.
Cast: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Callow, Miriam Margoyles