When it comes to the Christmas season, there can never be enough classic films. And, so for good reason, there is room to cheer for director Bharat Nalluri’s new film “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” an inspired, entertaining and uplifting tale of how Charles Dickens came up with the ageless story of “A Christmas Carol.”
“The Man Who Invented Christmas” explains how Dickens’ classic work forever changed the Christmas season
“A Christmas Carol” is a story of remarkable imagination – the legendary miser Ebenezer Scrooge, the small child Tiny Tim, and the ghosts of Christmas who inhabit the night air during the most celebratory time of the year. But how exactly did the legendary Charles Dickens come up with these ideas, characters and plotlines? That’s the question that “The Man Who Invented Christmas” attempts to answer.
You see, prior to “A Christmas Carol,” the winter holiday was primarily a religious holiday. What Dickens did was transform the holiday into a time to celebrate compassion, empathy, charity and generosity. He simply needed the characters to bring these themes to life – and he found them in Scrooge and Tiny Tim.
The film – despite taking place in 19th century England – is very accessible to all audiences. The film offers a highly stylized look at the era, focusing on the creative process that eventually gave birth to the novella. And, as we find out, it wasn’t always an easy process – Dickens, like every writer, occasionally suffered from writer’s block. It sometimes took hallucinatory conversations with imaginary characters – such as the famous Scrooge – in order to get his novella back on track.
In one hilarious scene, Dickens is seen struggling to come up with the name of this classic work. It wasn’t a title that just rolled off the tip of his tongue – “Christmas Ghost Story”? No. “Humbug: A Miser’s Lament”? No. “Oh well, I’ll think of something,” says Dickens cheerfully.
“The Man Who Invented Christmas” is suffused with the charm, energy and charisma of Dan Stevens
The iconic character of Charles Dickens is played by Dan Stevens, and his acting is just sublime. He infuses the character of Dickens with energy, with imagination and creativity. He’s clearly enjoying the role, and having great fun showing us Dickens as a struggling artist trying to provide for his family and find his creative muse. In hindsight, we think of Dickens as an established, iconic author – but it wasn’t always that way. In one part of the film, he confesses that he’s “run out of ideas.”
And that’s where the film is so much fun – at just the moment when it looks like Dickens couldn’t possibly come up with a creative work that could be published – he runs into characters in the streets of London who give him fresh inspiration.
For example, somebody bumps into Dickens in the street and says “Humbug!” to him. He’s so excited by this strange and very evocative word that he races home, deliciously repeating the sound of this word, absolutely certain that it will be perfect for his new work. In other scenes, he runs into people named “Marley” and “Copperfield” – a not-so-subtle nod and wink to some of Dickens’ greatest character creations.
“The Man Who Invented Christmas” is full of classic charm and timeless themes
Part of what makes a “classic” is the ability to stand up under the test of time – a film (or novella, for that matter) shouldn’t just be a trendy work that rises and falls with the latest hype cycle. And that’s why “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is destined to be a new holiday favorite – it touches on all the ageless holiday themes and traditions that many of us have probably never ever questioned where they came from.
And so this remarkable holiday film is really a story about compassion, about generosity and about caring for one’s fellow man. Dickens didn’t literally invent “Christmas” – but he invented the modern view of what it should represent. He was writing during a period of rapid industrialization in England, at a time when the nation’s agrarian, class-based society was being torn apart by modern industrialists, factories and sprawling cities.
Dickens, then, was searching for a way to bring compassion and empathy to this experience. What about all the people who were struggling with this new society? The idea was to make Christmas the one time of the year when men and women could bring goodwill and cheer to all. As a result, this is a film to which you can bring the whole family, young or old. You can delight in a story in which the ending is already known, but that becomes richer with every new re-telling.
The interactions between Dickens and Scrooge provide a sense of wonder and merriment
The real highlight of the film are all the imagined conversations between Dickens and the various characters who will come to populate his novella. The most important of these, of course, is Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s clear that “Scrooge” is a composite of various miserly people that Dickens has met, but he has the artistic skill and creativity to meld them into the Scrooge that we all recognize – a miser in a black hat who has no sympathy for the poor and the weak. In a modern industrial society, says Scrooge, the poor and weak serve no role.
The one-one-one conversations between Stevens (as Dickens) and Christopher Plummer (as Scrooge) are priceless. And it’s hilarious to see how Dickens came up with the name for this character – he’s struggling to come up with some word that sounds like “Scratch,” and after various inspired permutations of that word, comes up with “Scrooge.” Plummer is wonderful in this role, and it’s clear that he enjoys playing the role of literature’s most famous miser.
“The Man Who Invented Christmas” is a film for the whole family
Without a doubt, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is a magical experience – and one that you will want to keep repeating every year. The film is sweet without being saccharine, and full of imagination, energy and creativity. It is, in short, the type of fun, and even exuberant, high-energy film that helps bring to life the Christmas holiday. It’s clearly destined to become a new holiday favorite for the whole family.