There have been more than one or two damning critiques of this festive-sounding film, and I'm not totally out of sympathy with them. The title ought to have been more accurately - 'The Man Who Wrote 'A Christmas Carol', which helped consolidate some of the Yuletide traditions which are still prevalent today.', but the ambitious title it's been given will just about do for shorthand purposes.
I know a fair bit about Dickens' life (Peter Ackroyd's massive biography is a must-read for the writer's admirers) but I couldn't recall the true circumstances of his penning of this justly well-loved tale. However, I'm told that enormous liberties have been taken here with the historical facts. No surprise there then!
It's 1843 and Charles Dickens, feted after huge initial success, has seen his fortunes slump in the wake of three consecutive unsuccessful novels, and now he badly needs another 'hit' to come to his financial rescue.
The young Dickens (must be about the first time I've seen him portrayed as clean-shaven) played by Dan Stevens in quasi-histrionic mode, and best known as 'Beast' in 2014's 'Beauty and....', is feverishly trying to come up with a workable idea in the weeks leading up to Xmas and (would you believe it?) fate comes to his aid in the form of people in his life dropping phrases, hints and usable names which his mind garners and puts together as a kernel of an idea for a shortish story appropriate to the season, he having little time available to come up with a viable plot on which to write and get it published while Christmas is still in the offing.
His family of young wife (Morfydd Clark) and three little children get an unexpected visit from his father (Jonathan Pryce) and mother - which allows for the (too many) interruptions of heavy, miserable flashbacks of when his father (and rest of family) was taken away for debt while he, as eldest child though yet a young boy, had to work in a blacking factory with other similar-aged children.
There's also the dour, real-life Mr Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) with all the characteristics of the book personage, who keeps popping up not just as an acquaintance but in his imagined fantasies too, acting out scenes from the eventual tale which Dickens then quickly commits to paper, the story being written for him rather than he having to work it out. He additionally meets in his imaginings, Marley, as well as the three ghosts, their appearances he similarly hurriedly has to write down.
The film seems to rely on the audience having more than a passing knowledge of the finished work, and perhaps they will. If they don't, then a lot of the references will have been wasted. (I've read 'Carol' more than any other Dickens work, perhaps around 20 times - though it is, to be fair, just a short story, excellent as it is).
The look of the film is perfect for what it is, but otherwise I found the product tedious with an unexceptional script, and an exceptionally mannered Dan Stevens in the Dickens role. Plummer's appearances as Scrooge, both in life and in imagination, are too frequent and overplayed, and even Jonathan Pryce as Charles Dickens Senior outstays his welcome, something I thought I'd never say about that actor.
I didn't find the Christmas mood particularly effectively captured. All those gloomy flashbacks and the quarrels with his printer and publisher as he comes right up to the deadline knocked the stuffing out of the turkey for me (the fact that I don't eat turkey is neither here nor there!) - though, mind you, the finished tale itself is likewise written with much sobering, thoughtful life-messages.
Indian director Bharat Nalluri does what he can with the, to me, misguided material, though I felt his heart wasn't in it and it shows. I can't see this being added to the considerable pantheon of worthy Christmas films to be watched annually on Xmas Eve or on the afternoon of that very day. A Christmas cracker which lacks the crucial 'bang'...................4.5.
1 hour ago