Inventor of Xmas? Charles Dickens, Really?

DATELINE:  Ghosts for the Holidays

Dickens with ScroogeDickens 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.

 

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George C. Scott as Scrooge

DATELINE: Holly Not in His Heart

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Each Christmas season we are inundated with a variety of the myriad movie versions of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol.

Each season we are invariably asked for our recommended choice for viewing. But, we must defer: our taste in Scrooge performance is sympathetic to the eternal curmudgeon that dwells in every movie critic.

Since we live in a haunted house where ghosts stay with us every day, not merely on holidays, we are less intimidated than most by spirits.

With that in mind, we must offer the best version of Ebenezer Scrooge was by the man who brought General Patton to life:  notable contrarian George C. Scott.

His miserly Scrooge seems unrepentant. He is some fearsome in his role that he never defers to the ghosts, but dares them to change him. In that, they barely succeed.

If you like your Scrooge undiluted, George C. Scott gives you a dose for the ages. The unremitting mood of the Dickens London in this movie is dank and unpleasant—and even when Scrooge tends to give quarter, he seems to be mindful of the world he lives in. Scrooge is only slightly moved by pathetic Tiny Tim.

It is the best Scrooge performance ever.

What you see is what you get: there is no fancy makeup on Scrooge, as the only American accent in the cast. Even that is perfect to show a man out of touch with his time and place.

The film remains faithful, almost in every detail, merely cutting away some plot points, though sticking to the original dialogue.

Made in 1984, this Carol is often lost in the Hollywood or Disney extravaganzas. But, we would put our miserly money on this version as the one to scare the holiday spirits out of your classically, mis-remembered moments from the original novella.  It’s a treat, and not a goose or turkey production.

A Visitor to Coach Belichick’s Office

 DATELINE: SPORTS SATIRE

 

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Ebenezer Belichick 

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         Stevan Cratchit Ridley 

Following in the shoes of his teammate Alfonzo Dennard who pleaded no contest to DUI in Nebraska this week, Stevan Ridley is pleading no contest to DUF (dropping unnecessarily f*****s).

Our intrepid stringer Charles Dickens sent in this report:

The hanging judge in this case is the warm-hearted Bill Belichick, always filled with the season’s giving at this time of year.

When Stevan came to make his case, Belichick merely asked Ridley, “Are there no workhouses?”

Ridley answered, “All too many.”  Little Stevan made his case, “At this time of year some players suffer greatly.”

Belichick snarled, “Are there no fumbles?”

Ridley cried, “Plenty of fumbles.”

Belichick was undaunted: “And is the Players Union still in operation?”

Stevan noted, “They are very busy at this time of year, dealing with bad officiating.”

The Patriots coach snickered,  “Oh, I was afraid from what you said at first something had occurred to remove them from impeding my justice system.”

The star running back lamented, “Will you allow me to put down the ball on the sidelines and hold one in the game?”

“You wish to play then? Since you ask me, I don’t play myself, and I can’t afford to lose games at this time of year. If you are so badly off, maybe you should play for the Jets.”

“Many won’t go there, and many others would rather die.”

“Then don’t drop the ball or you will decrease the population of the 53-man roster.”

Seeing it was useless to pursue a case with Belichick, Ridley grabbed his football and tucked it under his arm.

As he left the coach’s office, he could hear the words, “It’s enough for a man to understand how to carry a football. That’s your business. Now, my business is to win games and it occupies me totally.”

Ridley did not let the door hit him on the way out.