Film Review – The Man Who Invented Christmas

I must confess that as I write this review I am scoffing down a fruit mince pie. One of the true joys of the season. Less joyful for me is the impending occasion of Christmas itself.

Once I was through my early childhood years of “presents from Santa”, I’ve struggled with many aspects of Christmas, from the emphasis on family to the excessive consumption and waste associated with unbridled spending.

Often lost on me are the charitable and spiritual elements of the anniversary of the birth of Christ.

The Man Who Invented Christmas explores the backstory of Charles Dickens masterpiece A Christmas Carol, a tale I’m not so familiar with beyond my knowledge of the character Scrooge.

With the aid of some research I was able to grasp that up until the publication of Dickens’ ode to this time of year, Christmas was not celebrated on anywhere near the scale that we now know.

Phrases like Merry Christmas, Bah Humbug and the tradition of the Christmas Tree all come into Anglo society around this time in the 1840s, and have held fast, in large part thanks to the mainstream embracing of Dickens novel.

The film opens in New York City, 1842, with the title card “Basking in the success of his novel Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens embarked on a tour of America. Fans in every city staged galas to welcome the literary sensation.”

As we see Dickens (Beauty and the Beast’s Dan Stevens) preparing for his appearance he tells us “there never was a King or Emperor on the earth so cheered.”

A man on stage is introducing him to the crowd – “The great magician of our time whose wand is a book. The Shakespeare of the novel, the people’s author, the great and marvellous bard, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Charles Dickens”.

It is unexpected to witness this level of fan mania in the era of top hats and coat-tails, but Dickens is relishing the attention. Yet he can’t wait to get home.

We head to London in October of 1843, “16 months…and three flops later…”

Dickens hasn’t had a hit in almost a year and half and he is literally lost for words.

Sitting at his writing desk with bills coming in he is in desperate need of inspiration for his next work.

Attending a charity event one evening to raise funds and awareness for poor children, no doubt a connection to Oliver Twist, he gives chase to a man attempting to sell his own two children to Dickens.

Sprinting through laneways in pursuit of the fellow, Dickens stumbles into a graveyard where he encounters the funeral of a wealthy man who is being buried with only one living soul in attendance.

As Dickens watches from the shadows, the one funeral attendee makes his way out of the cemetery directly into Dickens path where they exchange words.

The famous catch-cry Bah Humbug is born, as is the character of Scrooge, an absolutely perfectly cast Christopher Plummer, although Dickens hasn’t quite come up with his name yet.

I really know very little of Dickens catalogue, except to say that when I have looked through his books I have been put off by the “Olde-Worlde” language and never persisted in reading anything he has written.

Having tracked down the best regarded of the many film interpretations of A Christmas Carol in 1951’s Scrooge, I am now looking forward to watching this with my family.

The Man Who Invented Christmas wonderfully unravels the writing process as Dickens’ characters literally come to life in his writing chamber as he confronts ghosts from his own past.

At age 12 his father was thrown into prison for non-payment of a debt and Charles was forced to work in a “blacking factory”. These scenes are played out in flashbacks and in present day interactions with his Dad (Game of Thrones High Sparrow Jonathan Pryce) who is still reliant on Charles for money.

In fact, he has been sneaking through the rubbish, collecting the “Charles Dickens” signature and selling these via newspaper classified ads.

Charles has six weeks to finish his story and deliver it to the printer in time for Christmas, and as he races towards his deadline he struggles to find an ending to the book.

His behaviour on the home front is causing tensions with his wife and his housekeeping staff, one of whom has been influential on aspects of the tale.

As he heads to the abandoned factory where he was forced to work as a child, one of the film’s best scenes occurs between Dickens and Scrooge.

As Scrooge tells it – “Hello Charlie. So, this is your miserable secret. The famous author, the inimitable Charles Dickens was once a scabby little factory boy, a common bit of riff raff, a squalid wretch of no use to anyone… a nobody… a debtor’s son. Who could ever care for you? Certainly not your father. He abandoned you. He failed you again and again.  You said so yourself. He’s nothing but a drag, a chain.

Says Dickens – “Who are you?”

Scrooge replies – “You know me Charlie. I’m hunger. I’m cold. I’m darkness. I’m the shadow on your thoughts, the crack in your heart and the stain upon your soul. And I will never ever leave you.”

As Dickens wrestles with his memories of his past he is able to find the right ending to his story and set about getting to the printer in time, and the rest as they say, is history.

“Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol on December 19th, 1842.

By Christmas Eve every copy had been sold. Overnight, charitable giving soared.

It has become one of the best-selling books of all time, Forever changing the way we celebrate Christmas, Reminding us of the joy to be found in friendship, kindness and generosity.”

Based on the book by Les Standiford, this is a brilliantly written work that has been performed with gusto by a wonderfully talented cast. There are plenty of laughs in unexpected places and it is a perfect companion to the season.

4 Stars – “Splendid Storytelling with Spellbinding Performances”

 

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