The Man Who Invented Christmas Delivers A Solid Dose Of Holiday Cheer
Review by Aaron Haughton
Charles Dickens is one of the worlds most renowned authors of all time. We're reminded of this every few years with another depiction of his classic tale A Christmas Carol. That time is now again upon us with Bleecker Street's The Man Who Invented Christmas. Thankfully, this film is not a shameless retelling of the classic story we're all likely familiar with, but is instead a look from the other side of the glass into the creation of the famed novel. Based off Les Staniford's historical non-fiction novel of the same name, The Man Who Invented Christmas is a fizzling tale of triumph over writer's block and dark memories that is sure to deliver the proverbial dose of holiday cheer.
Following his trip to America in 1843, Charles Dickens (played by Dan Stevens) is suffering from the failure of his last three books, economic struggle, and writer's block. Rejected by his publishers, he sets out to self-publish his next book, a story he hoped would keep his family afloat and revive his career. Mixed with real life inspirations and his vivid imagination, the film depicts how Dickens conjured up the unforgettable characters and timeless tale, forever changing the holiday season into the celebration we know today.
I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by this film. I didn't think the reverse angle of the Christmas Carol story would be that interesting, but the narrative became engrossing and far more deep than I initially figured. There's a nice warmth and charm to the film that pulls you in and puts a smile on your face. The caliber of performances, the film's touching theatrics, and the beautifully crafted set pieces immersed me into the world and took me for a ride I was only half expecting.
The skeletal framework of A Christmas Carol is still intact, but composed in a similar manner to Scrooged. It's not as objectively hilarious as the Bill Murray classic, but it's far more comedic than it appears upon first glance. There are some scenes, like the conversation between Dickens and his artist over the contradiction of a "jolly ghost", that will have you genuinely laughing from the gut. The film also deals with the real fear that stems from the lack of inspiration and thoughts of career tombstones, which is felt through Stevens' sincere and emotive portrayal of the tortured artist touched by movements of divine vision. It should also come as no surprise that Christopher Plummer, who plays Ebenezer Scrooge, is an absolute joy to watch. Plummer and Stevens share many a scene together, and it's wonderful to watch them interact. They share wonderful chemistry that rings through the back-and-forth dialogue.
My one real criticism with the film would be that it doesn't really depict or discuss at length what Christmas was like prior to the publication of Dickens' tale. There is only a brief mention during a conversation with his publishers, wherein they reveal that Christmas is not widely celebrated and doesn't evoke the sense of generosity or goodwill that it does now. Including more instances of that would've made the enormity of Dickens' story's influence land a little harder. However, the revelation that Dickens self-published tale singlehandedly transformed the popular notion of Christmas basically over the course of one night is still pretty objectively astonishing.
There's nothing particularly groundbreaking about the way in which the story is told, but director Bharat Nalluri is adequate enough as to not draw too much attention to himself. However, there are a few instances of an unmotivated and jarring zoom and shaky cam that distract from the film's performances, which pulls you out of the story a bit. It's gorgeous to look at though, particularly the lighting as it shoots streaks of white through the dust of any room.
Overall, it's a fresh and interesting look at an otherwise saturated and beaten dead story. It's truly touching, with all the charm and cheer of Dickens' original tale, and it should bestow upon you good tidings of abundance, goodwill and generosity. Being a writer myself, the film actually filled me with inspiration and the spirit to pursue creative endeavors that were suspended on the back burner.
The film opens on November 22nd, just in time for the traditional post-Thanksgiving outing to the cinema. If you're eager to slip into the Christmas feels, this film is sure to adequately prime you for the season. As the famous line goes, "God bless us, every one!"
Rating: 4 "Bah! Humbugs!" outta 5.
Are you excited to see the film? Are you fatigued on A Christmas Carol stories? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!