Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) is at a low point in his career. Following three flops and lots of debt, he decides to write a Christmas story and self-publish it in six weeks. Meanwhile, his parents come to stay. Still haunted by the nightmares of his childhood (going to the workhouse), Charles incurs a seemingly permanent writer’s block. He must face his demons, through his characters, especially in conversations with Scrooge (Christopher Plummer). Now with his deadline fast approaching, the acclaimed Charles Dickens is lost for inspiration. He is angry at his characters’ opinions (just roll with it) in his impossible task, creating a tale that would epitomise the spirit of modern Christmas.
I could argue that the original meaning of Christmas can be traced back to Charles Dickens and his A Christmas Carol. I don’t think there’s a child in the land who hasn’t heard of Scrooge or “Bah! Humbug!”. Words that have become part of our festive dictionary and to not like Christmas is to be called either a scrooge, a humbug or a Grinch (from Dr Seuss’ story). I speak from experience. Based on the book of the same name by Les Standiford with the the screenplay by Susan Coyne (Mozart in the Jungle) and directed by Bharat Nalluri (The 100), The Man Who Invented Christmas takes us to the festival I use to enjoy, as it wasn’t always the play of capitalism that it has become.
The setting of this film is almost nostalgic as we’ve seen Victorian London done countless times before, many of which are through screen and stage adaptations of Dickens’ work, including Carol Reed’s Oliver! and Bleak House to name a couple. We see some of the class divide, and Dickens’ rough childhood in the workhouse (through flashbacks). The film shows us how easy it is for affluent people to fall. “Master Dickens” goes from the son of rich man to the son of a man in debt. His father (Jonathan Pryce) being sent to debtors prison meant that Charles was now the main earner, a child, and that was the sad story of many young boys during the turbulent Victorian era.
Even in our modern age of technology and the internet, I am sure artists will be able to relate to this film, primarily in the chaos that is Charles Dickens’ work space or office. From poets to writers to painters and so forth; his study is a mess and to find anything is a struggle. This is a reflection of his mind and the way he thinks. It’s a jumble of stuff, including his characters that he talks to regularly, especially the one and only Ebenezer Scrooge, played so brilliantly by Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music). The scenes between Dan Stevens (Legion) and Scrooge are the best in the film. Plummer needs to play Scrooge when (not if) they remake A Christmas Carol.
This is a good character study of one of the great literary giants. Via how he interacts with others, we see the man himself. We also see how much of Dickens is part of Scrooge. We see Charles interact with strangers and his family. He is by no means a perfect human being and he doesn’t pretend to be. With standout performances from Christopher Plummer and Dan Stevens, this is one more of those films that will slide under everybody’s radar.