Dan Stevens Christopher Plummer Jonathan Pryce Miriam Margolyes
Simon Callow Bill Paterson Donald Sumpter
This film is related to the Goodbye, Christopher Robin story in its reflection of real events and troublesome experiences in the authors’ lives that produced the two works of art that have been beloved by the public for generations: Winnie the Pooh and A Christmas Carol. The Man Who Invented Christmas, Charles Dickens, drew on his own childhood memories, dreams (nightmares), and elements in his adult life to weave into a tale about a miserly old man who is visited by ghosts of his past, who make comments about his character and predictions about his future. According to this account, Dickens identified with Scrooge enough to motivate him to make some changes in his own life as a result.
The small book seemed to have a similar effect on the readers when it came out just before Christmas in 1843; and according to the historian who wrote the book on which this film is based (Les Standiford), it transformed the Christmas holiday from a Puritanical and Industrial Revolution attitude into one now considered as a time of giving and good cheer. Charitable giving in the country went up noticeably the year of its publication.
We get a good look at Dickens’ life during the time he was writing A Christmas Carol, when he was reeling from three commercial failures, was ridden with debt, had a large family to support, and had the burden of caring for his parents. There were constant interruptions to his writing, which made him lose his temper and make rash judgments, only to try to reverse them later. The film shows his visions of Scrooge and other characters visiting him, inspiring him to rush to his desk to include them in his story. An interesting aspect of the film is its depiction of Dickens incorporating not only his own memories and fantasies into his writing, but other observations he makes in his everyday life. For instance, he has a nephew who is very ill and has to use a crutch (a model for Tiny Tim, perhaps?).
Director Bharat Nalluri and screenwriter Susan Coyne present us with a story that cleverly weaves together Dickens’ everyday life with his fantasies, dreams, and the story he is writing, based on the book by Les Standiford. Production design by Paki Smith shows the house in Victorian London where Dickens lived and worked, its transportation, factories, stores, and clubs in rich detail. Music by Mychael Danna and cinematography by Ben Smithard evoke the period and, all together, the filmmakers give us a beautifully rendered period piece that is likely to appeal to the viewing audience at Christmas-time, although the general viewing audience may find it tedious to go through Dickens’ fits and starts in the writing process.
Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens beautifully portrays the harassed young writer, who, although often displaying a quixotic manner, is constantly pressured by others (and himself) to distinguish himself from his father by being a practical businessman. Christopher Plummer possesses all the qualities of a Scrooge who continually feeds the author valuable information and feedback. Another standout is Jonathan Pryce as the feckless parent who is gifted in coming up with excuses on the spot for his failings. Justin Edwards as Dickens’ loyal friend and agent and Morfydd Clark as wife Kate provide good support. The cameo by Donald Sumpter as Jacob Marley is priceless.
The Man Who Invented Christmas is a worthy addition to holiday viewing.
Grade: B+ By Donna R. Copeland