There are two perennial tales we turn to at this time of year. One, The Nativity, may carry the self-righteous gravitas of religious dogma but it doesn’t really speak to the modern reality of Christmastime. For that, we turn to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol which, by its collection and curation of traditions, conventions and practical applications of the Christian principles of charity and compassion has, more than anything else, come to define the values and virtues of the season.
Following the success of “Oliver Twist”, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) tours America, riding the crest of a wave of success and popularity. But two years later, after a string of flops, he finds himself teetering on the brink of financial ruin. Necessity being the mother of invention, Dickens sets out to self-publish a new novel, a Christmas ghost story which would go on to change the world.
While it may be a gently revisionist and rose-tinted biography of one of England’s greatest novelists at a crucial point in his career, this film adaptation of Les Standiford’s 2008 book is also a delightfully poignant and insightful deconstruction of “A Christmas Carol”, placing the various threads, themes and motifs of the novel into the context of Dickens’ life and times.
Dan Stevens makes for dynamic, Whovian Dickens – a single-minded man of literary action. As the novel starts to evolve, he too is haunted by his own dark past, the precarious present and the foreboding future. Dickens was always a journalistic novelist and this film pays rich tribute to his acute eye for dramatic reportage and moral crusading as he draws inspiration from the world around him and weaves it into a tale of redemption and enlightenment, bringing the social and economic injustices of Victorian society to a wider public awareness.
He’s aided in shaping the story by the characters themselves, with man-of-the-moment Christopher Plummer essaying a tremendous Ebenezer Scrooge who, as well as being the protagonist of the emerging narrative, allows Dickens to confront his fears and anger about his own past. A supporting cast including the likes of Miriam Margoyles, Jonathan Pryce, Donald Sumpter and Simon Callow (for once not playing Dickens himself) round out the sumptuous Victoriana which gives the film its rich backdrop.
As an examination of how out modern interpretation of what Christmas is all about, it’s an entertaining and instructive experience, dusted with the festive magic of a witty and warm twist on the evergreen story of “A Christmas Carol”.