Biography Comedy

'The Man Who Invented Christmas' Film Review: There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor

November 24, 2017Siobhán Finn

Imagine a world where Christmas is not the be-all and end-all of holidays. Where people think Christmas is a humbug and an excuse to get out of working for the day. A world where stores are not festooned two months in advance and musical artists don't release a new holiday album every year.

Imagine, if you will, Victorian England in 1843. It is into this world that Charles Dickens released his novella, A Christmas Carol, and introduced the idea of a holiday based around family, happiness and even a little good cheer. The Man Who Invented Christmas is a sentimental look at both the author and his work, set during a time when sentimentality was at a premium.

Dickens (Dan Stevens) is short on money and long on writer's block when he promises his publishers a new book in exchange for a generous advance. Inspired by people he sees around him, he decides to write about a miserly man who learns the meaning of Christmas after he is visited by three specters. When his publishers balk at the idea, as there's "not much of a market for Christmas books," the "Shakespeare of the novel" returns the advance and elects to publish elsewhere. When his characters aren't busy talking him through the new book, Dickens must deal with the more immediate problem of an unwelcome visit from his ne'er-do- well father (Jonathan Pryce), around whom both his best and worst childhood memories revolve.

A Christmas Carol has been performed by a great many actors on both the stage and in film. It is no small feat for Christopher Plummer to step into the role of literature's greatest grumpy curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge. It is, however, interesting that his portrayal is nuanced in a way none of his predecessors' could be. Plummer is specifically playing a character rather than a person — a fine line, perhaps, but an important one in the context of the film. Unlike his literary self, Plummer's Scrooge cannot become real until Dickens breathes life into him and is therefore beholden to the author in a way the character would find rather distasteful.

Despite a lamentable wig, Stevens does an admirable job filling Dickens' shoes. He works best with whimsy but slogs through the meandering tale of Dickens' checkered past with admirable determination. Stevens is a delight with sight gags and quick one-liners that fans of the novella are sure to enjoy but struggles with the more serious tone of scenes with his father. Having established a lighter tone early in the movie, Stevens appears to be looking for punchlines where none exist.

Many writers say their characters talk to them and write the stories without much input from the author. Director Bharat Nalluri's vision of this discussion between the fictional and the corporeal is delightful. The movie works best when it stays focused on Dickens' book and writing process rather than the issues with his father. While some may find it fanciful and unrealistic to have Dickens chase after his characters as they introduce him to the next scene in the book, these moments feel like an incredibly sincere love letter to the process of writing. It is a tribute to screenwriter Susan Coyne that her whimsy succeeds where her attempts to delve into reality come up flat.

One cannot escape the cleanliness of Nalluri's London, however, which lacks even the remotest sheen of Dickensian grime. The story does not shy away from the dirty truths of workhouses, debtors prison, and Dickens' own early poverty but does treat them with kid gloves, perhaps for seasonal box office reasons.

This whimsical take on what it means to be an author will ring true for many writers while more serious-minded viewers roll their eyes and contemplate issues of historical accuracy. Even Scrooge himself would mutter an earnest "bah, humbug" to the latter. Suffice to say, it won't take visits from multiple ghosts to realize The Man Who Invented Christmas is a lovely holiday film about a timeless story and the man who gave it to us.

The Man Who Invented Christmas releases November 24th, 2017 from Elevation Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for thematic elements and some mild language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 44 min.

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