DATELINE: Ghosts for the Holidays
Dickens with Scrooge!
One presumes Dickens would be appalled that he was given the label as The Man Who Invented Christmas because in 1842 under financial pressure, he wrote a little ghost story in six weeks. We always thought Jesus probably deserved a little credit for inventing Christmas.
Having dozens of movie versions of the famous holiday tale about the reclamation of Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol, it seems only fitting that a charming tale, slightly mythological rather than biographical, would be the latest incarnation of the story.
Dan Stevens, hot off Downton Abbey, plays a stylish, boyish Charles Dickens, a man surrounded by his own spendthrift ways and a brood of interruptions in his home, faces a daunting deadline to come up with a novella to make ends meet.
Stories about writers are usually deadly dull and impossible to show creativity, but this film manages to show how the characters, and caricatures, came to life for Dickens.
No small feat is the marvelous performance of the difficult quarry of Scrooge in the person of Christopher Plummer. He argues he wants his point-of-view better expressed, feeling the story is too one-sided!
The cast is up to the weird exaggerations of Dickens, including Jonathan Pryce as the author’s father. Many people in Dickens’ life take a role in his story.
Cute, by some standards, we see snippets of dialogue picked off the streets as Dickens goes on his daily duties. He hears the best lines and incorporates them into his text. But, it is his debates with Scrooge who visits him in his room that is the heart of the film.
Dickens purists might take issue with the pabulum portrait by Stevens, but this is a sentimental story, intelligently told, without profanity, sexual situations, or other unpleasantness, while maintaining dramatic and psychological effectiveness.
This is a film that insists Dickens did more for Christmas than you may want to believe. Yet, this is more than a holiday fest and more than a simple biographical movie. It is charming, an addition to the Christmas canon.