BBC’s A Christmas Carol Episode 3 manages to pull a haunting final visitation from the horrors which preceded it

It’s been a dark and terrible night so far for Ebeneezer Scrooge (Guy Pearce) and it’s not been too kind on this particular viewer either. The handsome and haunting production values haven’t quite managed to make up for the needlessly profane and relentlessly grim retelling of Dickens’ immortal classic. I mean, this is a level of darkness even Frank Cross in his heyday would have blanched at.

And yet…

And yet this third episode kindles a glimmer of hope. There’s something of a crunching gear change as Scrooge’s nature and outlook changes and, as the story hinted in part two, his sister is the key to the transformation, showing him the power of Christmas present by reminding him of past kindnesses and present absolutions. There are still flashes of darkness here and there but the swearing takes a welcome step back in this third instalment and, oddly, this version’s take on the Ghost of Christmas Future is actually pretty tame by the standards of what the show has been willing to embrace previously.

Having pushed the bleakness further than ever before, the adaptation is wise enough to realise it’s taken Scrooge too far to ever be redeemed as he is in the original story and the countless adaptations which have preceded it. Scrooge understands there’s no forgiveness for his life of callousness and cruelty but his resolve instead fixes on atonement and the distant possibility of clemency when his time comes. It still fumbles some of the key moments: Tiny Tim’s potential demise has nothing to do with Scrooge or his miserable, miserly ways – it’s purely a tragic accident, albeit one which Scrooge is able to avert thanks to foreknowledge of things to come and it never answers the obvious question of where the Hell were these corrective spirits when Scrooge’s father or Headmaster were blighting the lives of innocents?

It is because they were only called into being through the hint of deliberate witchcraft on the part of Mrs Cratchit, a late revelation which adds a last minute frisson of intrigue but ultimately, frustratingly has to be left unexplored. And, while the ending is happy enough for most of the characters that matter, the overall feeling from the whole series is that we have been the ones subjected to a vision from the spirits: the inky black shadows of things that have been and, if we don’t change our ways, will be again.

This may not be “A Christmas Carol” I would have wanted, but perhaps it’s one we needed to see and, without a collective desire to reflect on our trajectory and turn back from the brink, the one we’ll deserve to live in.

6/10

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