Review: The Man Who Invented Christmas

Directed by: Bharat Nalluri
Written by: Susan Coyne
Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Callow, Donald Sumpter, Miriam Margolyes
Released: November 30, 2017
Grade: C+

The Man Who Invented Christmas
I’m trying to think of another year when we’ve had so many Christmas-themed movies released.  In the past few weeks, we’ve had Bad Moms 2, Better Watch Out, Daddy’s Home 2 and The Star.  The next entrant to throw its hat in the ring is The Man Who Invented Christmas – a drama directed by British Indian filmmaker Bharat Nalluri (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day).

The origins of this movie are an interesting story in their own right.  Les Standiford is an American historian with an interest in acclaimed 19th Century British author Charles Dickens.  In 2008, he completed a work that was part biopic, part fiction.  The title aptly summed it up – “The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits.”  That novel served as the source material for this film.

The better parts of this adaptation are those based on well-known facts.  Charles Dickens was a much-loved author following the success of Oliver Twist but by 1843, it had been several years since his last big hit.  He was now struggling financially and given the lukewarm sales of “Barnaby Rudge” and “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit”, many believed his career had peaked.

It was at this point where he came up with the idea for what would become one of his most famous works – A Christmas Carol.  If you’ve never read the book or seen a film/TV adaptation, it’s the tale of a miserable old man, Ebeneezer Scrooge, who is visited by a series of ghosts at Christmas and transformed into a better man.  It became so popular that the word “scrooge” became part of common vernacular.  You’ll now find it as a noun in any dictionary.

Where Nalluri’s film struggles is the fantasy elements.  We are provided with a series of flashbacks that show us Dickens’s (Stevens) tough upbringing and the rocky relationship he had with his father (Pryce).  These show that his dad was the original inspiration for Ebeneezer Scrooge.  As this goes on, Dickens is visited by a miserable ghost of his own (Plummer) who feeds him lines which end up as part of the finished novel.

These scenes are clearly an attempt to retell A Christmas Carol from a different perspective but it comes across as jumbled and confused.  Given the number of successful adaptations of Dickens’ work, what is this film trying to add that hasn’t already been achieved?  If you’re looking to be moved emotionally, watch the 2009 animated feature directed by Robert Zemeckis.  If you’re after something a bit more fun, try the 1982 musical that featured the Muppets.  There are countless other adaptations where the messages and themes come through more clearly.