UK Release Date: 1st December 2017
Runtime: 104 minutes
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Writer: Susan Coyne
Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Justin Edwards, Jonathan Pryce, Morfydd Clark, Simon Callow, Miles Jupp, Anna Murphy, Ger Ryan
Synopsis: Strapped for cash and in need of a new hit novel, Charles Dickens decides to turn his attention to turning around a Christmas story, featuring magic and horror.
I’d be willing to bet there isn’t a human being alive in the English-speaking world who isn’t at least passingly familiar with Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Whether via the original book, the dozens of adaptations, The Muppets or even Bill Murray, everyone has been touched in some way by the story of Scrooge and the three ghosts who visited him. The one thing everybody agrees on in relation to the story is that it has probably been transformed, tweaked and adapted enough… at least for now. That hasn’t stopped The Man Who Invented Christmas, though, which tries to get away with treading the same ground by framing the story a little differently.
Rather than existing within the world of the novel, Spooks director Bharat Nalluri‘s film follows a rather dashing young Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) as he goes about writing the story. Dickens meets regularly with his close friend and confidante Forster (Justin Edwards), as they try to complete the whirlwind production process in time for Christmas. Throughout the process, Dickens is visited by manifestations of the book’s characters, including the miserly Scrooge (Christopher Plummer), and they guide him to the end of the story.
The Man Who Invented Christmas attempts to have its Christmas pudding and eat it by trying to distance itself from being just another Dickensian adaptation, while also recycling the basic beats of the well-known tale. The script attempts to draw parallels between Dickens and Scrooge, with the latter performed ably by an on-form Christopher Plummer, but these never bear as much thematic or emotional fruit as they should. In fact, the most interesting relationship is between Dickens and Forster, who is portrayed with broad Geordie wit by The Thick of It‘s Justin Edwards.
Nalluri’s biggest festive crime is the lack of Christmas spirit in his story. There’s a gaping hole where all of the warmth should be and, into it, the film simply places a noisy, miscast Dan Stevens and a series of underwritten female characters. Jonathan Pryce, as Dickens’s father, is a wry bright spot, but he’s not on screen for long and there’s no deep exploration of the father-son relationship, though the film seems to think this arc has been drawn well enough to herald a big emotional pay-off.
The film, too, lacks the vim and vigour of a proper Christmas favourite. It’s a pedestrian trudge following listlessly in the footsteps of the many A Christmas Carol adaptations of the past. The scenes of Dickens writing are exactly as tedious as watching a man at a typewriter sounds, enlivened only by tin-eared moments of cod-inspiration where Stevens squints into the middle distance before exclaiming “Scrooge” or “Marley”. It’s enough to make anyone side with the grumpy old man in the funny hat.
Pop or Poop?
A game Dan Stevens and some nice supporting turns are not enough to rescue The Man Who Invented Christmas, which is a bland retelling of a story we’ve all seen before that doesn’t have the courage to admit its unoriginality. Intriguing plot threads go largely unexplored and Stevens is hopelessly miscast in his role. Bah, humbug!
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.