Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
Ireland/Canada, 2017. Mazur/Kaplan Company, The Mob Film Company, Parallel Films, Rhombus Media. Screenplay by Susan Coyne, based on the book by Les Standiford. Cinematography by Ben Smithard. Produced by Niv Fichman, Vadim Jean, Robert Mickelson, Susan Mullen, Ian Sharples. Music by Mychael Danna. Production Design by Paki Smith. Costume Design by Leonie Prendergast. Film Editing by Stephen O’Connell, Jamie Pearson.
After achieving worldwide renown for the popularity of his many novels, author Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) is trying to find a way out of a recent slump: Martin Chuzzlewit and Barnaby Rudge didn’t exactly fly off the shelves, the bills are mounting, the wife is pregnant with number six, and he has a nasty case of writers’ block. His habit of walking the streets of London in search of inspiration eventually hits paydirt when a funeral in a churchyard attended only by a cruel, elderly gentleman (Christopher Plummer) fills his mind with fantasies of a tale to do with Christmas, ghosts and regrets. Dickens is certain that his story will be one his readers will respond to favourably, but the idea of getting it finished, printed and bounded and on shelves before a fast-approaching Christmas Day seems impossible…but what was ever impossible for this literary giant? The result, as we all know, was eventually titled A Christmas Carol and has become not only one of the best known and frequently adapted narratives of all time (most people who haven’t read it still know the plot inside out), but also, and this is what this film means to teach us, has had a massive influence on our cultural idea of a traditional English Christmas, which in the 1840s was considered a common and not particularly important holiday. This film is good for the family, which means that it imparts this bit of historical trivia in a straightforward and rather simple (but smart and sweet) manner; in reality, Dickens’ story was lucky to come out around the time that Queen Victoria put up a Christmas tree in Buckingham palace, likely inspired by the customs of her own German background. The idea that all of Christmas is the product of one man’s imagination is ludicrous, but this film is far too well acted and beautifully shot to be criticized harshly for this conceit. What it does effectively is cover many aspects of Dickens’ life with great efficiency, including his ambivalent relationship with his father (Jonathan Pryce) and his haunted memories of having to go to the workhouse as a child (it’s an especially good film if you have ungrateful children). Stevens is wonderful in the lead, and while the inclusion of his fictional characters following him around is unevenly included, the scenes where he spars with his imagined version of Plummer as his creation Ebenezer Scrooge are the film’s best.