Around this time of year “A Christmas Carol” is omnipresent. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s journey of redemption, courtesy of three mysterious Christmas ghosts, runs on an endless Yuletide television loop and has been adapted as an opera, ballet, a Broadway musical, animation and even a BBC mime production starring Marcel Marceau.
A new film, “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” aims to tell the story behind the story. “Downton Abbey’s” Dan Stevens plays Charles Dickens, the Victorian writer who, when we first meet him, is out of ideas and money. “My light’s gone out,” he moans. When he devises a Christmas story, his publishers, who have gotten rich off his previous works, scoff. The holiday season isn’t a big enough deal for their readers, and it’s only six weeks away. How can he finish a novel and how can they publish it in such a short time? He perseveres and we see how real life inspiration and his imagination collide to create the self-published book that redefined Christmas celebrations for generations to come.
Using flashbacks to Dickens’s childhood in London’s workhouses and dramatic recreations of encounters with the characters—including Christopher Plummer as Scrooge—that would soon populate his book, the film attempts to show “the blessed inspiration that put such a book into the head of Charles Dickens.”
Often more literal than literate, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is handsome film that plays like a series of “a ha” moments than a serious exploration of the creative process. What it does, however, is entertainingly paint a picture of life in Dickens’s Victorian home, and the external influences that sparked his imagination.
As Scrooge Plummer hands in a performance that makes us wish he’d play the character for real. In a very likable portrayal Stevens links Scrooge’s transformation to Dickens as he battles his own personal demons on his way to personal redemption. All bring a light touch and even when the going gets tough there is an endearing quality to the material. Even the condescending critic William Makepeace Thackery (Miles Jupp) isn’t played with malice.
“The Man Who Invented Christmas” is a festive film, a movie for the holidays that reminds us of the spirit of the season. No “Bah! Humbugs” here.