It’s not surprising to see a version of A Christmas Carol hitting theaters this holiday season. Even though there are numerous portrayals of the story, one could justify it was about time to make another rendition of the well-known novella. However, The Man Who Invented Christmas takes a new spin on the story by focusing on Charles Dickens rather than on the atoning Scrooge.
The film begins at the height of Dickens’ (Dan Stevens) fame with the release of his latest novel Oliver Twist in 1842. Hailed as a celebrity, Dickens is in the middle of a book tour in the United States when it becomes apparent that there is only fame in his future for his writing.
After returning to London, the story takes a somber turn a year after the book tour described as “three flops later.” Dickens is now in crisis and living a lavish lifestyle with his expectant wife and children that he can barely afford all while struggling with writer’s block as he tries to make a comeback after publishing three flop novels.
While wrestling with writer’s block, he stumbles upon an idea for a Christmas story based on a Scrooge-like person he meets who mumbled “humbug,” to himself. After turning down Dickens’ idea for the story, the penny-pinching publishers exclaim, “There’s not much of a market for Christmas books. It’s a minor holiday,” setting up the premise of the story. Dickens decides to self-publish his book after paying back his advances.
A unique feature of the film is the appearance of the characters from A Christmas Carol as Dickens molds each of the characters into the story. In an almost hallucinogenic manner, Dickens interacts with the characters and asks them questions to discover the persona of each person and how they play a part in the tale.
Most of the interactions happen with Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) because Dickens wrestles with an internal struggle about whether Scrooge, personified by Dickens’ anger toward his good-for-little father, can change from a heart full of greed to one of giving.
This film earned a B+ rating for its imaginative historical account of the creation of A Christmas Carol. Some moments were cheesy, like when Scrooge and Dickens fight about whether a man can change through a lifetime. But, the film holds strong through the end making it an enjoyable journey to the foreseeable outcome. Stevens does an excellent job playing an energetic, witty and charismatic character who spends most of his time tromping around the writing room trying to develop a name for the miser of his Christmas novella.
It is a bold claim to say that Charles Dickens invented Christmas. He may not have drafted the first renditions of Santa Claus or Rudolph, but he played a large role in how we view one another during this holiday season. As Dickens wrote, “[Christmas] is the only time when men and women open their shut-up hearts and think of other people below them as fellow travelers to the grave and not some other race of creatures bound on other journeys.”