God bless us, everyone. There’s more than one family-friendly movie worth catching this holiday season. First, there was Wonder, a heartwarming drama based on the best-selling book from 2012. And now there’s The Man Who Invented Christmas, a biopic of sorts about Charles Dickens and the creation of his 1843 classic novella “A Christmas Carol” where Scrooge discovers the true meaning of Christmas after late-night visits from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. The story’s been adapted many, many, many times for stage and screen. So what makes this film worth seeing when you kind of know how it all plays out? Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, Legion, Downton Abbey) and veteran actor Christopher Plummer – especially Christopher Plummer – and a script infused with warmth and wit.
The movie is based on the book “The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits.” It focuses primarily on the astonishingly brief six-week period in which Dickens conceived, wrote, and secured the illustration and publication of “A Christmas Carol”. The accelerated effort was, for Dickens, a last-ditch effort to salvage his literary rock star status in England and around the world, and stave off creditors. The film presents a story within a story, as Dickens’ own family life and influences are gradually revealed along with the fictional characters that haunt, inspire and inform his writings in poignant and entertaining ways. Most notably, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge (Plummer).
The Man Who Invented Christmas is not going to be an instant classic in the holiday-movie sense. But it is refreshingly engaging and uplifting, especially compared to two other recent pics about writers and their most famous works: Goodbye Christopher Robin about Winnie-the-Pooh creator A.A. Milne, and Rebel in the Rye about J.D. Salinger. And while The Man Who Invented Christmas takes place in 1840s Victorian England, the story and the film reflect social commentary that remains relevant today and seeks to remind us all that “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.” If that’s not enough to get you in the holiday spirit then, well, bah humbug.
[Arty Chick weighs in: I agree that Christopher Plummer kind of makes this movie. I liked the way the characters came alive to tell Dickens how to write his book, but I don’t think this film is destined to be a Christmas classic. The parts where the books characters weren’t there felt kind of flat and Dickens’s relationship with his profligate father felt a bit too convenient to the story. My nephews saw it (ages 9 & 11) and were not blown away. They liked it, but I can’t imagine them wanting to see it again. I think the way the story is told outside the ghosts part felt too BBC drama to them. All in all I think it’s just too clever a retelling, when the actual story is so well told.]