★★★☆☆

There have been a plethora of adaptations of Charles Dickens’ timeless “A Christmas Carol” over the decades, including “Scrooge,” a 1970 musical film adaptation, and “Christmas Carol: The Movie,” a 2001 animated film featuring the voices of Kate Winslet and Nicolas Cage. Drawing on the biographical work of Les Standiford, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” switches the focus from the ever-miserable Ebenezer Scrooge to Dickens, played by Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey,” instead.

Though director Bharat Nalluri does get several things right in the film, he and his team also make mistakes that make the film an opportunity not fully realized. When it flies, it soars, but when it sinks, it flounders in mediocrity.

The plot revolves around a period in Dickens’ life when he is a renowned writer but has recently published a few flops. The film shows him struggling financially and searching for inspiration for a new book to blow the critics away. His determination is amplified when he interacts with characters like William Makepeace Thackery, played Miles Jupp, who mock his latest works.

The film opens during Dickens’ tour in the United States, where he finds excess and extravagance, and later transitions back to London. The audience views an extremely colorful and bright city that does not mirror historical accounts of London at the time.

This inaccuracy is the first of several pitfalls of the film. From there, Dickens encounters a series of random characters who conveniently provide inspirational one-liners, a device that dangerously reduces the author’s fabled imagination to a collection of mere stories. The result does not come off as a glimpse into the mind of imaginative writer, let alone one of the most creative penmen in English history.

The other main characters are played with a loveable charm by a brilliantly casted British ensemble. From Dickens’ wife Kate, played by Morfydd Clark, and his reliable companion John Forster, played Justin Edwards, to his financially irresponsible father, played by Jonathan Pryce, and his Irish housemaid Tara, played by Anna Murphy, viewers are spoiled by the talent on display. Watching Dickens balance his hectic work schedule, finances and family life is something many generations will find relatable.

The final mistake made by Nalluri and screenwriter Susan Coyne is their failure to sell us on how Dickens actually revolutionized Christmas, as the title suggests.

Initially, Christmas is dismissed by one of Dickens’ publishers as merely a “minor holiday” that should not warrant a whole book. Then the film focuses on how Dickens manages to write and publish an illustrated book in less than six weeks. Throughout this frantic journey, there are moments when the holiday spirit could have been emphasized more.

As a result of this misdirected focus, the film comes off more as a triumphant entrepreneurial story, reminiscent of the 2015 biopic, “Steve Jobs,” that chronicles how Jobs built Apple, than anything else. While the film’s unexpected focus on Dickens’ triumphs is not necessarily bad, it calls for a change in the title, as a Christmas revolution is not seen in the film. Even if it does show a more jovial red and green celebration at the film’s conclusion, the film does not satisfy audiences with the “invention” of Christmas.

Ironically, despite the lack of focus on the creation of Ebenezer Scrooge, it was Scrooge, played by Christopher Plummer, who made the film memorable. Plummer perfectly exuded the humbug spirit that epitomizes Scrooge’s demeanor.

At its best, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is a tale of the triumph of goodwill and creativity over a tight deadline set by strict publishers. Mychael Danna’s cheery soundtrack further cements the feel-good element that the story provides.

The movie is a perfect fit for parents to take their young children, not as a way of teaching them about Christmas, but as a fun trip to the theater to prepare for the holidays. In the end, they will have watched a cute, though unremarkable, film.

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2 Comments

  1. Wael Bississo says:

    A very well written, well presented article. It provides a message to both parents and young generation. I admire the tight knitting of the various conflicting views on this film, but the overall message was very well presented.
    I foresee a brilliant future as an admirable author for a young man like you.
    I am so proud of you. Good luck.

    Your Grandpa

  2. Paul E. Doniger says:

    The first inaccuracy is in the opening scene in NYC, where they are playing the George M. Cohan song “Yankee Doodle Dandy” 61 years before it was written! Later, some of the characters discuss the failure of some Dickens novels that did not yet exist in 1843.

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