The Man Who Invented Christmas

Studio: Bleecker Street
Directed by Bharat Nalluri

Nov 21, 2017 Web Exclusive
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Even the all-time greats go through slumps; literary giant Charles Dickens followed up the wildly popular Oliver Twist with three straight stinkers. This chain of flops left Dickens near-broke and in dire need of a hit.

This is where The Man Who Invented Christmas begins, with a still-young Charles (Dan Stevens) in a poor financial state and suffering from a brutal case of writer’s block. To make matters worse, his debt is mounting as he tries to maintain the lavish household that was expected of an aristocratic Londoner in the early 1840s. Worse still, his frivolously-spending father has moved into their home. When his publishers are skeptical about his idea to put out a Christmas novella in time for the holidays, Dickens gambles the last of his fortune to self-publish A Christmas Carol, which would go on to become his most enduring work.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is a hokey-yet-charming, family-friendly holiday film, telling the (mostly) true story behind one of the best-known and frequently-adapted literary works of all time. Christopher Plummer here becomes the latest actor to play the crotchety old Ebenezer Scrooge, who appears to Charles (along with other Carol characters) to provide supernatural guidance through moments of writer’s block. In the beginning, it’s fun to see Charles take inspiration from the world around him; many of the story’s most famous lines are heard in passing and re-used later. Eventually, though, this has the effect of reducing Dickens’ brilliant work to a series of overheard conversations scavenged from others and then thrown together. If The Man Who Invented Christmas is to be believed, Dickens came up with very little of A Christmas Carol on his own.

Still, many viewers will enjoy seeing all of these unsubtle winks to familiar characters and passages; The Man Who Invented Christmas is also finely shot, acted, and assembled, making it more than passable, PG-rated holiday entertainment. The Man Who Invented Christmas’ putrid title certainly doesn’t do it favors, though – the title makes it sound like either an evangelistic movie, or a Hallmark Channel Original. A Christmas Carol’s publication did arrive at a time of Yuletide juncture, in the midst of a period when the British were newly enamored with the holiday and many of the current-day, Western traditions had yet to be cemented. This is reflected in the film, at best, in passing, which is a shame, as an exploration of the novella’s impact on the holiday’s celebration might have been a more interesting path for the filmmakers to follow. 

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Author rating: 5.5/10

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