Shakespeare Of The Novel

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Stars: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Morfydd Clark, Justin Edwards, Miriam Margolyes, Donald Sumpter, Miles Jupp, Simon Callow, Ian McNeice and Bill Paterson
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Scriptwriter: Susan Coyne based on the book by Les Standiford
Composer: Mychael Danna
Cinematography: Ben Smithard
Bleeker Street
Rating: PG but may be better suited for children over age 10 for themed storyline
Running Length: 100 minutes 

The name “Charles Dickens” brings forth eloquent writing, many characters, beautifully described settings and stories that have twists and turns and several plots. Charles Dickens was a writer, and as stated in the film, he was a “Shakespeare of the novel.” Did Dickens continually write stories?  Was he born with a feather pen in his tiny hand? No. As this film tells it, life was hard for Dickens and he had to deal with that through his life, because family wasn't always with him, but lonely was. In this adaptation of the Les Standiford story about “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens had a mind that literally would not stop. His creative juices went on and on. The actor who plays Dickens, is Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey” and “Beauty and the Beast.”) Stevens is a versatile actor and takes the role of  Dickens and runs with it. I really mean “runs with it,” as part of the time in the film, he is scurrying from one place to another. The setting is after "Barnaby Rudge" and before “David Copperfield.” Right now, Dickens needs help. 

Dickens has just come back from a successful tour of America, that frightened him. Crowds were everywhere and no courtly manners such as in England. Back in London, with his wife, Kate (Morfydd Clark) and children, Charles wants to write another novel. He has expensive tastes and there is now little money to pay bills. Something that haunts him through the film, also, and we see that the old saying, “like father, like son” is appropriate. Dickens friend, Forster (Justin Edwards) helps him like an agent, but Charles just can't get an idea. It is Writer’s Block. Charles locks himself in an upstairs study and proceeds to try to find characters for a novel---any novel. Characters first, storyline second.  The family is doomed to his outbursts through the day and night but get used to it. Eventually, through an Irish maid  and street scenes, bits of conversation and a “muse” (Scrooge as played by Christopher Plummer), Charles begins the story of an eccentric, crabby old man (“Bah, Humbug”). This man, who is visited by three ghosts, sees his sorrowful future and tries to redeem himself. The publishing house won't do a Christmas story of any kind, and everyone thinks Dickens is insane and ready for the Poor House. Into this mix of trying to meet a deadline, comes Dickens father, John (Jonathan Pryce) who is a slippery character and the enmity that Charles feels for this man and his abandonment, is seen in a well-acted scene concerning a flashback and words that just have to be spoken. Will “A Christmas Carol” ever make it to the printer in time? Will the public buy a story about Christmas? Not only that, but there is a sick child in the book! If you are reading this review, you know the answer by now. 

The actors in this film go full throttle in their roles. Dan Stevens speaks a mile-a-minute when trying to communicate his ideas to others. He does serious and comic in stride. This is an actor come into his own. Christopher Plummer as “Scrooge” is dour, mournful,sarcastic, witty and has his moment of larity, too. Jonathan Pryce as Charles’ father, is really an empty shell and knows it. He doesn't mean to be shallow, but it just comes forth. There are two main women’s roles, Morfydd Clark as Dickens long suffering wife, Kate and the Irish maid, who seems to go right to the heart of the conversation. 

Production values are quite good and after seeing Charles Dickens take feather pen and ink and paper to write a story, you wish the computer had been invented 200 years before. Then, homes were elaborately decorated for Christmas  and the holiday was celebrated with family, friends, large, festive meals and singing. 

This movie is a top-notch production and my guess is that it will appear in movie theaters as a special each year, or at least, on television as a favorite. What does it take to write? Not only is “The Man Who Invented Christmas” about a Christmas story, it is about taking notes, remembering details, listening to other people talk and their ideas and not being afraid to do something that generally isn't done. A Christmas story without a out-in-front religious theme. Instead, it is there, gently in the background---forgiveness, redemption and charity. My favorite parts are the banter between Charles and Scrooge in which Charles threatens to write Scrooge as “bald and with bad teeth” if he doesn't agree to some story changes. By the way, don't fall asleep during this film or you will miss some of the witty  dialogue which goes by speedily. Charles Dickens was a world-famous prolific writer and telling the story of  “A Christmas Carol” was about only one of his books. I wonder what happened when writing the others? 


Copyright 2017 Marie Asner