“The Man Who Invented Christmas”

 

            This film could more reasonably be titled “The Making of a Christmas Carol.”  It takes us back to 1843 London, where Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) is suffering writer's block.  And this, after a most successful American tour following his acclaimed novel, “Oliver Twist.”  But now, after sixteen months and a couple of not-very-commercially-successful books, Dickens is feeling the pressure.  His wife, Kate (Morfydd Clark) is supportive enough, but he knows that in his own upstairs study, looking at blank paper and holding an ink quill in his hand, he has to rely on his own resources.

            Fortunately for him, he has a fertile imagination.  Obsessed with the right naming of a character, he's convinced that once the proper name is invoked, the characters will come to him.  In this movie, they literally appear to him in his study, beginning with Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer).  The movie infers that chance encounters on the street, such as with a haughty man at the club, or a dancing man at the market, or a funeral director on his way back from a gravesite, all have a way of sparking the creative fancy of Charles Dickens.  And so we have Scrooge's business partner, Jacob Marley (Donald Sumpter), wearing the chains around him that he had forged during his lifetime of slavish devotion to moneymaking.  An ill child of a relative produced the concept of Tiny Tim.  The Ghost of Christmas Past resembled his Irish maid.  And the Ghost of Christmas Present was actually modeled by his best friend for the book’s Illustrator. 

            But though Dickens obviously has a social conscience, he's certainly not portrayed as a saint.  He gets very upset when anyone disturbs him when he's trying to write (and his characters instantly disappear from his study, as well).  Even a knock on the door will send him into a rage.  He's not especially kind to his wife, who puts up with a lot of the “temperamental artist” in her house.  He seems to all but ignore his children, who apparently are to be seen and not heard.  And he's not kind to his father, John (Jonathan Pryce), a sometime thespian and failed writer who seems to live off his son's largesse, and vicariously revel in his popularity.

            Anybody who has tried to put words on a blank page can identify with the way Dickens wrestles with his Muse, and struggles with finding just the right turn of phrase.  He both needs to be alone to write and needs the stimulus of others to invent his characters.  He can be witty and charming one moment and then haughtily dismissive the next.  And yet we all recognize that “A Christmas Carol” is nothing short of a pure work of genius.  Perhaps it didn't create the goodwill and benevolence of Christmas.  But it sure doesn't hurt us to be reminded.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)      What “gets you in the mood” for Christmas?

2)      What part of our Christmas culture is irritating to you?

3)      What is “the real meaning” of Christmas?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association