An Uninventive ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’ ✮✮

It’s hard to imagine a Christmas in the United States without some version–new or old, of Charles Dickens 1843 “A Christmas Carol,” but Christmas Day has been around long before then, receiving a boost in popularity after Charlemagne was crowned on Christmas Day and that was in 800. “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is about how Dickens saved his family’s finances (and even himself from descending into Christmas humbug during the six weeks that he wrote the tale.

Set for release on 22 November 2017 in the USA, the movie’s chief asset is main actor in another Christmas tradition: Christopher Plummer. He’s not the strict Baron Von Trapp here, but the imaginary character of Ebenezer Scrooge who holds conversations with the young and slightly desperate Dickens (Dan Stevens).

Stevens was dreamy in “Downton Abbey” as Mary’s true love and as the Beast in the live-action “Beauty and the Beast,” but here, he’s and often befuddled literary genius.  The action begins 1843  while Dickens is on tour in the United States, speaking nationwide after the success of  “The Pickwick Papers” (1837)  and “The Adventures of Oliver Twist” (1839). He was the most famous writer alive, but he was also mobbed by American fans and bothered by the lack of copyright laws. Americans could easily read his works in pirated editions. “The Man Who Invented Christmas” does allude to his falling out with his US fans, but Dickens was also a man supporting his con-man father (Jonathan Pryce) and mother (Ger Ryan), his wife (Morfydd Clark) and their brood. He and his wife Catherine Thomson Hogarth would eventually have ten children, but in 1843, they had three (Mary Dickens, Kate Macready Dickens, and Walter Landor Dickens) and another soon on the way (Francis Jeffrey was born in 1844).

His last three published works were not particularly popular and his current serial, “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit” pokes fun at Americans. Dickens needed a hit and this movie’s script by Susan Coyne (based on a book by Les Standiford) suggests who Dickens worked out characters who become so real to him he has conversations with them, Dickens created “A Christmas Carol” in six weeks.

Everyone Dickens meets becomes a resource for his story and while he is represented as befuddled and sometimes eccentric (in a way that is presented as normative for an artistic type), his wife is the steady, sensible influence. And yet, we know that Dickens also had a falling out with his wife after producing 10 children, taking a much younger mistress. This is strictly a G-rated, family-oriented version of Dickens and means to suggest a happy ending for all involved.

While Dickens didn’t create Christmas, his characters have become part of an enduring Christmas tradition. It is hard to imagine Christmas now without Scrooge and this is a less is an interesting but not totally inspired edition. It would be lovely if Christopher Plummer did get a chance to play Scrooge in a full production but for now, this will have to do.

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