As delighted as I am with all things English, Dickens and Christmas, I bypassed my initial protest to the title of this movie and went to see it as my kick-off to the season. It wasn’t BBC, but then I knew that beforehand. Christopher Plummer? Dan Stevens? I was all in before the previews were over. But would these two thoroughly British actors, one a legend and the other a fast rising star, anchor this work to the great Charles Dickens, whose ability to create memorable stories and characters had no rival? My answer is a resounding, ‘almost’.
To begin with, as a physical representation of a young Dickens, Stevens was great, and I found Plummer brilliant as the fictional Scrooge. Special mention also to Donald Sumpter for his deliciously morose Marley. The interplay of imaginary characters with the writer, brilliant. The suggestion that personal demons showed up in his writing, and that Dickens resurrected Scrooge as a self-cautionary personality? Most likely.
My hesitation to hail it as a perennial favorite? Let me explain.
Dickens was a wordsmith. Nothing great can come of the following explanation without understanding this fact. In his first serialized novel, The Pickwick Papers, he begins with a 96 word sentence that contains 8 phrases, separated by commas. I had a sneaking suspicion that the creators of this movie had never actually read any of Dickens’ novels, A Christmas Carol, his most famous work, perhaps being the exception.
I found Stevens’ frenetic portrayal to be lightweight in nature. When he interacted with the children it was not believable. Tiny Tim was the true ghost in this portrayal as he showed up mostly in reference. Who wouldn’t love more Tiny Tim? Similarly the portrayal of William Makepeace Thackeray by Miles Jupp lacked depth. It seemed as though the scenes were patched in to make a point rather than coherent with the story.
Although I found the story absorbing overall (it had a Disney-esque quality) I was rudely awakened from the magic when I noticed the sleeves of the great author were pristine white after hours of writing with an old fashioned ink pen that notoriously leaked and dried slowly. This is a costume gaffe, but an essential detail to period works.
In one scene a mother (Dickens’s wife Catherine, I think) comforts her child with the modern phrase,”It’s okay.” Mind you it’s mid-1800’s. Inexcusable.
Now for the title. I understand the director’s meaning and grant him (and the writer of the book by that title) poetic license. But Christmas is a transcendent idea, and far more so than Charles Dickens ever could have come up with. He would heartily agree, I am sure, otherwise the story of Scrooge’s transformation as a result of his interaction with the Spirit(s) of Christmas has no meaning. I understand that the popularity of the work revitalized the celebration of Christmas as a time of generosity and celebration. May I suggest an alternate title? The Man Who Re-invented Christmas.
I wanted to like this movie, and I did enjoy watching it despite my critiques.