THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS (Ireland / Canada / PG / 104 mins)
Directed by Bharat Nalluri. Starring Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Callow, Morfydd Clark.
THE PLOT: Autumn, 1843. The great writer and chronicler of his times, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens), is in a bit of a fix. A bit burnt out after a long series of public engagements in the US, he finds himself coming to terms with a hat trick of flop efforts. There are also mounting debts and his wife Kate (Morfydd Clark) has a bun in the oven. He hits upon the idea of a Christmas story to warm the cockles of the heart. His publishers are unimpressed though. Since Christmas is just a minor religious event, they think it’ll be a comedy. As Dickens struggles with where the story is heading the characters come to life before him, talking to him and tormenting him – most of all, the miserly Scrooge (Christopher Plummer)…
THE VERDICT: ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’ is a grand title loaded with meaning. Did Charles Dickens really invent Christmas? Well, he invented parts of it (we’ll leave the traditional image of Santa Claus to Coca-Cola). Peek behind the wizard’s curtain and we find out that we owe a good deal of our modern conception of Christmas to Dickens, from the idea of charity and quality family time to even the phrase Merry Christmas. Other elements like the Christmas tree and Christmas Day being a holiday followed in later Victorian years.
This film acts as an origin story, detailing the writing process as Dickens struggles with the demands of publishers, an eager reading public, an illustrator (Simon Callow) who doesn’t understand what Dickens wants and a chaotic household where constant interruptions from family members are the norm rather than the exception. It’s a rather whimsical take, light on substance and heavy on the comedy aspects. It owes more to ‘Scrooged’ than Dickens’ classic tale of one man’s journey from dark loneliness to redemption.
It plays out like a stage play interwoven with a Hallmark TV movie special, given an extra sheen by a movie-quality cast of familiar faces. The production values are good, utilising Irish locations to double for Victorian London (Dublin has more period buildings than London apparently). It’s at its best in the scenes between Dickens and Scrooge, with a note-perfect performance from Plummer. There have been many screen Scrooges (most notably George C. Scott), but Plummer is able to skilfully convey the idea of a character being moulded and shaped by his creator – or is it the other way around? There is some substance here towards the end, as Dickens ponders how to resolve the story, but director Bharat Nalluri quickly moves on to bring back the whimsy.
There’s an enjoyable, frothy air and cosy feel to the whole film that only a Scrooge could resist. It won’t look out of place on Christmas TV schedules in coming years either. However, for an origin story about the creative writing process, it feels a little too light and not the equal of its end result, the quintessential Christmas story.
RATING: 3 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor