Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas Film Review

Before Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, Christmas was just a minor inconvenience for employers, with their humble clerks actually wanting a holiday to celebrate the day with their families. With The Man Who Invented Christmas, director Bharat Nalluri has created a vintage treat of traditional Christmas fayre, stuffed full with some of our finest actors re-imagining how Dickens created this Merry Christmas.

Dan Stevens is Charles Dickens, riding high on the success of Oliver Twist, but with an ever growing family he now finds the hits harder to write, and the spectre of his very alive father Jonathan Pryce and debtors prison never far away. He needs a new Oliver Twist, but finds he's an author in want of inspiration. And Miles Jupp's blasted William Makepeace Thackeray is always keen to tell him how his last book was not well received. His friend and literary agent John Forster, played by Justin Edwards, and he visit his publishers, where Charles dreams up a new book. A Christmas book. They are not so thrilled at the idea. And anyway Charles doesn't have a plot, a main character or a title. Forster does get an advance for the book, and also bad news about Charles's father.

Little by little Charles is inspired by daily events; the old waiter at his club The Garrick named Marley, a new nursemaid who tells the children a traditional Irish ghost story, a wealthy man buried with no name on his head stone to save money, his avaricious lawyer with his chained up safe, and wealthy Bill Paterson who think that the poor should hurry up and die to decrease the population. The young nursemaid Tara played by Anna Murphy, inspires him further with a gothic horror pamphlet, and he has the bones of a story. And six weeks to write and publish it for Christmas Eve, so says the book shop advertising Dickens's new novel.

He hands back his advance to his publishers saying he will publish the book himself. But what of the main character?, he needs a name. Scr something, Charles paces his study willing the name to come to him. And finally Scrooge appears. The single miser at the burial, a terrific Christopher Plummer, with his humbug. And imagination brings his old partner, Charles's lawyer Donald Sumpter, as the now dead Marley, dragging chains with every link he created while he was alive. 

We have a family in need, much like Charles's sister's family and their disabled child. And we have Scrooge and Charles writing the book together. As each new character is discovered they fill the study, and Charles's head, writing their part of the story.

Simon Callow as artist John Leech's vanity is appealed to, to illustrate the book. In Charles's now uncontrollable fertile imagination Tara is his Ghost of Christmas Past, the uncomfortable Forster drawn as The Ghost of Christmas Present, and a statue in the street The Ghost of Christmas Future.

But reading to Tara the book has a failing. You cannot let Tiny Tim die agrees Forster. Not like Little Nell. But how can he live, who can help his poor family and who can pay for Tiny Tim's medical needs? Not Scrooge because he's a miserly old humbug who can never change.

But as Charles confronts his proud but disgraced Father, and what we now regard as the Dickensian life he had as a child, working long hours in a factory at the age of 11, Charles finds that there can be redemption in his story. Scrooge doesn't want to die alone and unloved. He could be Tiny Tim's saviour. And as we know Scrooge will change to be a better man and honour Christmas, and it was a huge success with all books sold out.

And in finding the ending to the book, so the bitterness that Charles feels about his own past life is lifted, and he can welcome his parents back to share his life and home. And the new Christmas tree that Prince Albert has just introduced from Germany. The tannenbaum. I'm sure it will catch on say Charles to the assembled family and guests.

With sumptuous designs by Paki Smith, costumes by Leonie Prendergast and stirring music by Mychael Danna, Bharat Nalluri has directed a classic slice of Christmas that will be as perennial as A Christmas Carol's own adaptations.


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