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The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) movie poster The Man Who Invented Christmas

Theatrical Release: November 22, 2017 / Running Time: 104 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Bharat Nalluri / Writers: Susan Coyne; Les Standiford (novel)

Cast: Dan Stevens (Charles Dickens), Christopher Plummer (Ebenezer Scrooge), Jonathan Pryce (Mr. John Dickens), Justin Edwards (John Forster/Ghost of Christmas Present), Morfydd Clark (Kate Dickens), Donald Sumpter (Haddock/Ghost of Marley), Miles Jupp (Thackery), Simon Callow (Leech), Miriam Margolyes (Mrs. Fisk), Ian McNeice (Chapman), Bill Paterson (Mr. Grimsby), Cosimo Massimo Fusco (Signor Mazzini), Katie McGuinness (Fanny Dickens/Mrs. Cratchit), Ger Ryan (Mrs. Dickens)

 

The Man Who Invented Christmas utilizes one of the greatest stories ever written -- Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol -- in two different ways. First, it adds this to the growing subgenre of films about authors finding their inspiration, a class that includes such enjoyable works as Finding Neverland and Saving Mr. Banks.
Secondly, it allows us to revisit Dickens' masterful tale of holiday redemption without subjecting us to yet another retelling. The novella has been adapted countless times -- with the Muppets, as a Bill Murray comedy, with Robert Zemeckis' divisive motion capture animation, as an Albert Finney musical, and so on. By focusing on Dickens himself, Invented distinguishes itself from other adaptations, while still treating us to the characters and elements we love.

The film opens in 1842, with Dickens (Dan Stevens) in America on a publicity tour for Oliver Twist on which he is given a raucous reception. We then jump ahead sixteen months and find that after three straight flops, not all is well for Dickens. The author is short on money and struggling to find a new story to tell. With the help of his friend and associate Mr. Forster (Justin Edwards), Dickens is able to secure an advance to write a book about Christmas. The publishers aren't keen on the idea, considering it to be a holiday few make a fuss about.

Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) materializes and stands over Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) in "The Man Who Invented Christmas."

Dickens, of course, pursues the idea, conjuring characters out of past and present experiences. The characters come to life once Dickens can settle on a name. Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) comes first and becomes a kind of miserly conscience to our protagonist, who is set on telling a tale that encourages people to be generous at Christmastime. Crunched to make a timely release in mere weeks, Dickens decides to forgo his publishing house and secure publication on his own, hiring an illustrator (Simon Callow) before he even has a manuscript to share.

When he's not consulting with Scrooge and coming up with ideas, Scrooge is dealing with domestic affairs: his wife Kate (Morfydd Clark) who has just become pregnant again, an Italian man (Cosimo Fusco) installing new lighting fixtures around the house, a young housemaid (Valeria Bandino) he exchanges literary recommendations with, and Dickens' own ne'er-do-well father (Jonathan Pryce), who is visiting and placing further stress on the family.

The things that make Dickens' story so iconic -- the chilling misanthropy of Scrooge, the ghastly harbinger Marley, those ethereal ghosts, Tiny Tim -- all make appearances. And the film, which "Slings and Arrows" creator Susan Coyne adapts from Les Standiford's 2008 nonfiction book, is usually more creative than just having Dickens rapidly work through a list of names or presenting someone as a direct inspiration for a character.

There is more than a little truth and substance to the portrayals, such as Dickens' child labor experiences and unfailing sympathy for the poor. But unlike the dreadfully dull recent A.A. Milne biopic Goodbye Christopher Robin, Invented keeps things fun, interesting, and fairly light. There's inevitably a heartwarming conclusion, but the journey there isn't dreary or forced. That is a credit to director Bharat Nalluri, who is strangely picking up his first worldwide theatrical credit since 2008's Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) celebrates Christmas 1843 with his father (Jonathan Pryce), mother (Ger Ryan), and wife (Morfydd Clark).

For someone whose career has seemingly advanced on his looks (which were mostly hidden in his biggest film credit to date, 2017 box office king Beauty and the Beast), Stevens does a really good job as Dickens, making him sympathetic despite his seeming contradiction of principles and playfulness. With a slightly different interpretation,
the characterization could have rendered this a farce, but Stevens is the driving force that keeps the film endearing throughout.

At 87, Plummer remains a compelling presence. He might well be the oldest actor to ever play Scrooge, but he does it with such conviction that you wouldn't mind a straight Christmas Carol adaptation starring him. Other English veterans, including Miriam Margolyes and Donald Sumpter, chip in some good support as well without a ton of screentime.

Bleecker Street's Thanksgiving week release of this is more about the holiday season than awards season, although I did come home from my theatrical screening two weeks ago to find an awards screener DVD of the very same film in my mailbox. Still, outside of perhaps some small niche British awards, this probably will not be adding any accolades to its Truly Moving Picture Award win at last month's Heartland Film Festival in Indiana.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Goodbye Christopher Robin Lady Bird Wonderstruck Coco
The Muppet Christmas Carol Mickey's Christmas Carol Scrooged A Christmas Carol (2009) An American Christmas Carol
Dan Stevens: Beauty and the Beast Vamps A Walk Among the Tombstones Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer
Christopher Plummer: Barrymore The Last Station The Sound of Music Up Elsa & Fred
Finding Neverland Saving Mr. Banks

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Reviewed November 22, 2017.



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