I admit a bias here. Two biases, in fact.
British authors are among my favorite writers. And the beloved “A Christmas Carol” is among my favorite books.
So this combination in “The Man Who Invented Christmas” already appealed to me on the surface. And I enjoyed it even more as the characters — mainly the fictional ones in the book, but also Charles Dickens and his father, in particular — develop more fully as the tale continues to unfold in a gentle, often whimsical view of the beleaguered writer who needed to come up with a best-seller … and fast.
Dickens didn’t invent Christmas, of course. But for Victorian England, already in the throes of renewed interest in Christmas, he certainly gave it a boost. This isn’t exactly a biopic — it’s sort of a partial one, with a close-up view of the great writer over about two months of his life in 1843 while he was writing the holiday classic.
The screenplay contains a lot of authenticity. As presented in Susan Coyne’s mostly historically faithful screenplay, the kind-hearted and charismatic Dickens (Dan Stevens, the beast in “Beauty and the Beast” from earlier this year) is short on time, money and inspiration. His last three books were flops.
Now he has writer’s block, another child on the way, and his mooch of a father hanging around.
He knows his characters, especially Ebenezer Scrooge (a wonderful Christopher Plummer) and has lengthy conversations with them as he tries to encourage them to do his bidding.
The fun of it all is watching the characters and the dialogue spring from the people and the conversations he hears around him — there’s a cadaverous-looking waiter named Marley that most of the audience will recognize instantly — and some of which he remembers from his childhood.
Stevens has a great time with the exasperated Dickens, and the marvelous Jonathan Pryce (television’s “Game of Thrones”), likewise has fun as a ne’er-do-well who has little pride and even less of an understanding of finances.
The parts about the writing of the book, which Dickens did in six weeks time, engaged me the most and will engage anyone who writes or, for that matter, creates. While publishers turn down “A Christmas Carol,” we know better than they do: Dickens has a hit in his hands. I also liked the way Dickens is forced to grapple with constant interruptions, and the way he overcomes the obstacles that, at one point, never seem to end.
Don’t let anything stand in your way of seeing this good-natured, lovely-to-look-at story that’s suitable for families with older children (it’s too talky for the smallest ones) that will get you in the mood for you own Christmas.