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The Man Who Invented Christmas Review

By Lora Grady

The Plot Dickens

Even if you've never read "A Christmas Carol," the holiday classic about lonely miser Ebenezer Scrooge's spiritual redemption at the hands of three ghostly visitors in Victorian London on Christmas Eve, chances are that you know it pretty well. "A Christmas Carol" has been filmed many, many (many!) times: you can gauge both your age and your pop culture proclivities based on whether you picture Alastair Sim, George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart, or Bill Murray when someone mentions the name Scrooge. And, just try to think of a tv show that hasn't offered its own spin on the tale by putting a main character through the classic "you will be visited by three ghosts..." gauntlet.

But few may know the story behind the story, wherein author Charles Dickens, struggling with a mighty case of writer's block brought on by a string of unsuccessful publications, gambled everything on his latest book and simultaneously created Christmas as we know it. The new holiday film "The Man Who Invented Christmas" provides an engaging peek behind the scenes at the birth of "A Christmas Carol," and an illuminating look at the man who battled to bring it to life.


Dan Stevens ("Beauty and the Beast"), who's well known to disparate audiences through both his ensemble work on British costume drama Downton Abbey and his lead role in FX's dazzling sci-fi puzzler Legion, offers a straightforward take on Charles Dickens as an earnest family man and successful author celebrated for his heartfelt depictions of teeming London life. But as the film opens, Dickens is at a loss artistically, and staggering under a mounting pile of debts. There's an unpromising meeting with his regular publishing firm, and suddenly Dickens has conceived a Christmas book that he defiantly decides to self-publish, thus setting himself up for a series of precipitous deadlines as the holiday is mere weeks away.

"Christmas" gives us snapshots of Dickens' daily life as an artist and gentleman in London. He lunches at his club and fields snippy witticisms from rival writer William Makepeace Thackeray, immerses himself in the whirlwind of wife and children at home, and endures the stress of an unexpected visit by his gadabout father (Jonathan Pryce (Game of Thrones), a profligate conman who's not above peddling fake versions of his son's signature to keep his own head above water.

As Dickens goes about his days we see the bits of inspiration that come together to form the outline of the fledgling Christmas book: the new housemaid telling the children an Irish ghost story, his young nephew who's brave and optimistic despite his injured leg, and the sepulchral waiter whose last name happens to be Marley. And it's amusing to see Dickens pace around his study, trying out potential names for his main character while telling himself, "When you get the name right, if you're lucky, the character will appear."

Scrooge does eventually appear, in the form of Christopher Plummer ("The Exception"), who has fun joining the pantheon of actors who've played the archetypal miser over the years. The scenes where the author and his creation interact are part of the film's goofily effective approach to externalizing the writing process, along with later moments showing Dickens in his study with a veritable crowd of characters milling about, waiting for direction. And many writers will no doubt recognize Dickens' go for broke approach of setting up daredevil deadlines in an effort to force himself to produce.

"Christmas" brings in a bit of drama as it flashes back to Dickens' childhood, when his father's trip to debtor's prison landed young Charlie in a boys' workhouse, thus engendering a lifelong sympathy for the poor, orphans, and the downtrodden in London society. Otherwise, though, it's a tasty trifle of a film: a few bracing layers overlaid in a froth of whipped cream sweetness. You wouldn't want it every day, but as a holiday treat it's just right.

What did you think?

Movie title The Man Who Invented Christmas
Release year 2017
MPAA Rating PG
Our rating
Summary This tasty trifle of a film, depicting the creative process behind Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," is a bit sweet for regular consumption but as a holiday treat it's just right.
View all articles by Lora Grady
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