Christmas Review Part II - The Man Who Invented Christmas
More likely than not, we’ve all seen or read A Christmas Carol at least once in our lives. The story of an old miser who learned the error of his ways with the help of three ghosts became a staple in Christmas tradition, teaching us how to be selfless and considerate in such a festive time of year.
You what else I found early this month that felt just as interesting as the story of A Christmas Carol? The story of how it came to be, in the form of The Man Who Invented Christmas.
And before you jump to conclusions, no, it was not talking about Santa Claus. This was instead focused on Charles Dickens. And it was also about his personal and creative struggles that led to the creation of one of the most iconic Christmas stories ever written. Set in the mid-19th century, Dickens tried to think of a good idea for a story after three of his latest published stories bombed. Along the way, he tried to keep himself steady among his family during his creative struggles, not helped when his mother and his father, against whom Dickens held a huge grudge for personal reasons, arrived into his household. Igniting hope into his life, however, was the arrival of an Irish housekeeper named Tara, who came over to vacate at the Dickens household. One night, Dickens overheard her telling some folklore tales from her home to his children, and they, among others, ignited sparks that would have guided Dickens into creating his next story. As the creative gears were set into motion, Dickens tried to find the right components needed for his story, while also letting his publishers know that he intended to have the story published in six weeks’ time.
There’s a lot to like about this movie, the prime one being Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens. Never mind that his character was portrayed with shades of romanticism (especially when you compare it to the portraits made of Charles Dickens), but Stevens added a human layer to one of the literary icons of the 19th century, and expressed the many turmoils going on in Dickens’ life at the time of his writing of A Christmas Carol. On the one end, his family troubles enhanced an essence of vulnerability to Dickens, as he tried to work his way around the various squabbles going on in his household. The way he acted around his family in times of creative stress was very interesting, too, because during those times, he was kind, joyful, and humble in one minute, and then in the next minute he became frustrated, emotional, and snappy, resulting in him doing actions that he regretted later on.
And speaking of regret, his relationship with his father was very complex. At the time of his arrival, Dickens was very hesitant in allowing his father to stay with him since, as he pointed out to him, he already had a place of his own. But the trouble with the father was, he was very bad with handling finances. Case in point, he snuck into a hiding spot in the side of Dickens’ house, where he took out Dickens' private signatures that he stashed there and sold them off, much to Dickens’ frustration.
However, the real grudge Dickens felt for his father stemmed from his childhood, when his father was unexpectedly arrested and taken to a debtors’ prison. And from there, Dickens was sent off to work in a boot blacking factory. The conditions there were poor, the other workers there – mostly around Dickens' age at the time – were less than hospitable to Dickens, and he had to spend part of his life doing this job until his father was finally freed from prison. This was all exposed through flashbacks on Dickens’ side, and it led to some really intriguing family drama going on in the movie.
Dickens’ turmoil in the creative side might honestly have been my favorite part of the movie. As we saw Dickens try to put ideas together for his story, he showed us that it was hard work, and that the story didn’t just come to him right out of the blue. Instead, through this movie, we would’ve seen that his ideas for the story came to him bit by bit from his own life experiences in London and even from the people he knew. It got to a point where, by the time he conceptualized the characters for his story, he communicated with them as if they were standing there next to him in the flesh. Half of all the manifestations, like I said, resembled some of the people he knew in his life, such as the Ghost of Christmas Past resembling Tara, the Ghost of Christmas Present resembling his friend and partner, John Forster, and both Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim resembling his brother Walter and his incapacitated son. This might probably have been the visual definition of a group of muses if there ever was one.
One of the most inevitable manifestations of Dickens’ story as shown in the movie was Ebenezer Scrooge, played by Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer. And I’m telling you, Plummer nailed it in playing Scrooge. He was able to give Scrooge the vocal performance that was in tune to his character, and his bodily proportions were in tune to the character, too. But there’s more to it than just those. Whenever you saw Plummer as Scrooge, you would’ve seen him talking to Dickens in his own Scroogey way without reiterating many of the lines that would have later been used in the story (though he did do it half the time in the movie). And, there were even times when you would’ve seen Scrooge talking to Dickens as if he were a manifestation not of Scrooge, but of Dickens’ conscience. In fact, whenever Dickens did communicate with the characters from A Christmas Carol, including Scrooge, it felt like watching him communicate with the many facets of his conscience. This did ultimately tie in with his family problems, and the way all these dilemmas played out, I couldn’t get enough of. This was just fantastic and very well-played.
I won’t give the rest of the story away, since, from what you may have read so far in this review, you might have guessed by now what will happen in the last part of the movie anyway. But, that’s something for you to see for yourself, because I think you’ll really enjoy what the movie has to offer about what went on in Dickens’ life as he tried to reorganize himself both creatively and for his family.
And, if what you see in the movie doesn’t leave you inspired, then a bah Humbug to you!
Merry Christmas to one and all!