We give it: 3.5/5 stars
It was London 1843 and Charles Dickens was on the cruel slide to irrelevancy. Yes, that Charles Dickens. Though the talented writer had gained immense fame from popular stories like “The Pickwick Papers” and “The Old Curiosity Shop,” his three consecutive flops left him with a depleted fan base, and a depleted bank account. Yet, six inspired weeks leading into the holiday season and this frustrated novelist suddenly becomes The Man Who Invented Christmas.
Everyone has a favorite Christmas Carol film adaptation and The Man Who Invented Christmas is not trying to compete. Instead of retelling Dickens’s fictional tale, Director Bharat Nalluri (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) takes the baton from author Les Standiford and tells us the story of Dickens himself as we watch him slowly overcome his writer’s block.
Don’t worry – all the familiar faces are still there. The Fezziwigs are still charming, Jacob Marley is still creepy, and Scrooge (given a refreshing, comedic twist by Christopher Plummer) is still grumpy. The catch with The Man Who Invented Christmas is we learn how these characters came to life. Each one mirrors a figure in Dickens’s own life. The Ghost of Christmas Past is one of his inquisitive housekeepers who also serves as a muse, The Ghost of Christmas Present is his dear friend Forster, Jacob Marley is his stingy lawyer, etc.
The film is delightfully funny, thanks in large part to its star Dan Stevens, who completely throws himself into the mind of Dickens (he told Townhall at the premiere he was excited to dive into the "artistic process" Dickens went through). Yet, the movie is also surprisingly gut wrenching as we learn more of the author's painful past.
Which brings me back to Ebenezer Scrooge.
Dickens himself is mirrored in the Christmas Carol's dark protagonist. When he was just 11, Dickens was forced to become the “breadwinner” of his family after his father was sent to a debtor’s prison. His years in cruel child labor still cast a bitter shadow into adulthood. You can feel the tension building between Dickens and his father throughout the film until the author finally blows up at his dad for trying to profit off of his success.
If "Bah! Humbug!" is not a part of your vocabulary, you will cry.
Of course, the film could not elicit these emotions without a cast who’s up to the task. Stevens, famous for playing the charming Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey and, most recently, Emma Watson’s other half in Beauty and the Beast, playfully captures Dickens’s imaginative mind (perhaps a bit too boisterously at times). As Scrooge, Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music’s Captain Von Trapp), has too many hysterical one-liners to count. The audience loved how he gave Dickens a hard time about his creative drought – the pair had them in stitches at the premiere screening. Yet, Stevens and Plummer are also capable of darker, more poignant scenes, as you discover toward the closing credits.
Whether you are curious to see this impeccable cast take us behind the scenes of Christmas's most beloved ghost story, or are an aspiring author wanting a tutorial on how to overcome creative blocks, The Man Who Invented Christmas will put you in the holiday spirit.
I’ll let the author, Les Standiford, have the final say on how Dickens forever impacted the holiday.
“Celebrating Christmas without some reference to a Christmas Carol seems impossible, a remarkable fact given that the book was published more than 150 years ago,” he writes. “Indeed, the resonance of the story has remained so strong through the generations that commentators have referred to Dickens as the man who invented Christmas.”
The Man Who Invented Christmas is in theaters Nov. 22.