Thursday, 7 December 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol happens to be my all-time favourite story. The 1951 film version is also one of my all-time favourite films. So there was no way I was missing The Man Who Invented Christmas, which tells the story of both how Dickens came to write the novella and where the ideas in the novella originated. Written by Susan Coyne, based on the novel by Les Standiford, and directed by Bharat Nalluri, The Man Who Invented Christmas is a work of fiction, albeit based on the true story of Dickens’ life.

Dan Stevens plays Dickens and he is joined by Christopher Plummer as Scrooge, Jonathan Pryce as Dickens’ father, John, Morfydd Clark as his wife, Kate, Justin Edwards as his close friend and agent, Forster, and shorter appearances by actors like Simon Callow and Donald Sumpter as men involved in Dickens’ attempt to publish the novella himself (his publishers aren’t willing to trust Dickens after a couple of unsuccessful projects). 

All of the acting is wonderful to watch, though I’m not sure that Stevens was the right choice as Dickens. Either his performance or the writing produced a character I didn’t always find convincing, especially in the latter half of the film. To be specific, Dickens is portrayed as a bit of a buffoon, with an impulsive self-absorbed personality that is also kind and friendly and dark and angry. Perhaps this describes the real Dickens, but I found some of his words and actions quite inconsistent.

I mentioned Scrooge as a major character (Plummer is perfect in the role), but you may wonder how Scrooge can be a character in a film about Dickens. This is, for me, actually the film’s greatest strength, because The Man Who Invented Christmas brilliantly portrays Dickens’ writing process as an interaction with the novella’s characters. As soon as Dickens comes up with the name Scrooge, Scrooge appears and joins Dickens in his deliberations. Other characters will soon become discussion partners as Dickens struggles to plan what will happen in each new chapter of his novella. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this process, especially Dickens’ conversations with Scrooge, which were the highlight of the film.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is a beautiful film to watch, and the score is solid. All in all, it’s an entertaining, if rather lightweight, film. But my biggest complaint is so big that it easily knocks off a half-star by itself. That complaint is the core idea behind the last third of the film, namely that Dickens couldn’t figure out how to end his novella. I don’t believe for an instant that this is plausible (I’m convinced Dickens knew the ending before he started writing) and this had a major effect on my ability to appreciate what was otherwise a fascinating exploration of Dickens’ childhood and its impact on his personality.

The Man Who Invented Christmas gets a solid ***. My mug is up.

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