The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
An origin story of how Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol" turns out to be a fun, mostly light-hearted and family-oriented escape.
Very well made from a technical standpoint, with costumes, production design, score, and tone and atmosphere impressive and believable.
Dan Stevens caps off a fine year, pivoting from playing the Beast in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, to Dickens, with a gleam in his eye and levity in his step.
At times, The Man Who Invented Christmas may come off as a bit dry and expository, losing the interest of a younger audience.
Some have taken issue with the film's attempt to tell the story of how Dickens wrote his classic story and, essentially, recreating it within that context.
Obviously if you do not celebrate Christmas or believe in the holiday, you won't be interested in this, but some may find this little more than a stuffy, costume-heavy period piece about a story that can never truly be corraborated.
Seeing the poster-ready, matinee idol good looks of Dan Stevens, portraying the hard-scrabble Charles Dickens of the 1840s, may make one chuckle heartily. However, the actor, earlier seen in 2017 as the titular Beast in Disney's remake of Beauty and the Beast, offers a congenial, likable, rather wacky incarnation of the writer. In The Man Who Invented Christmas, we learn the true story of how Dickens created his iconic holiday story, "A Christmas Carol."
Consider this yet another cinematic origin story.
After experiencing a meteoric rise in fame and celebrity following "Oliver Twist," we learn that Dickens, in 1843, is cratering. After three successive failures, his popularity is waning and publishers see his brand as tarnished. On top of those professional struggles, all he can muster is an ugly ink drop from his pen on a piece of paper. He is stuck. He can't write. Everything is unraveling around him.
As the money starts to slow way down, he learns that his wife Kate (Morfyyd Clark), is expecting child number five. renovations on his home are more expensive and time-consuming than expected, his father (Jonathan Pryce) is kind, but irresponsible in trying to be an adult, and Dickens' downturn in success gives grist for the mill to his head rival, William Makepeace Thackery (Miles Jupp).
Little by little, Dickens sees things and meets people as he travels out and about. With each passing day, he finds fleeting moments of inspiration, nudging him along to conquering his being stuck.
One day, he encounters a grumbling elderly man (Christopher Plummer), in a top hat, who says "Humbug!" when approached by the author. Dickens' nephew is sick and unable to walk without the use of leg braces. And, in a framing device, which has proven a bit divisive for some viewers, Dickens is soon "visited" by a likeness of the elderly man and "talks" to him, creating the manifestation of moments which will eventually become a part of the Christmas story he wants to write, but his publishers have no desire to even read.
Directed by Bharat Nalluri (Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day), the film lives and breathes in the air and rain-soaked streets of 1840s Victorian London; almost reveling in its time period and setting. Everyone feels so comfortable here, Nalluri's approach clearly connecting with his cast and, in turn, his audience, as characters glide in and out, workmanlike and efficient.
Stevens is great, obviously making Dickens look as good as he has ever looked, but also playing the writer as teetering on the edge of crazy, exhibiting a true artisan's mind. The ensemble cast members glide in and out. And though there are sequences that occasionally feel dry to the touch and the middle of the film picks up some unnecessary weight to carry around, Susan Coyne's screenplay, well-studied and researched and adapted from the 2008 book of the same name by Les Standiford, offers plenty of off-kilter and comedic moments which keep things moving nicely.
Wonderful costumes from Leonie Prendergast lull us into the proper, but fraying mood and atmosphere that engulfs Dickens, crafted meticulously by Nalluri, cinematographer Ben Smithard, and an impressive production design team.
Surrounding Stevens are nice supporting turns from Plummer, a Scrooge-like addition to the cast, and Pryce, whose inability to get out of his own way creates a unique struggle for us to observe between Dickens and his father. Unfortunately, women are not given much to do here, although Anna Murphy has terrific moments as Tara, a nanny whose storytelling to Dickens' children proves far more influential than she could ever have known.
In a year where "Behind the Music"-style biopics have been made involving "Winnie the Pooh" creator A.A. Milne (Goodbye Christopher Robin) and "Wonder Woman" creator William Moulton Marston (Professor Marston and the Wonder Women), it is not at all surprising to have a Dickensian-style story share the inner workings of how the writer came to create a story on love, redemption, loyalty, kindness, and belief in something other than yourself, all while under intense personal pressure and scrutiny.
While it is far from accurate to say Dickens "invented" Christmas, he did, if we believe the film, inspire interest and generations of new traditions with his novella. His six-week whirlwind adventure of writing the manuscript, editing it, hiring it out for the illustrations, securing publishing, and providing finished copies to everyone in the days before Christmas is a rather fascinating story.
Overall, The Man Who Invented Christmas is largely a fun little escape. Told in a whimsical manner, with drama kept to a relative minimum, and suitable for all audiences, the movie has a nice little spring in its step, and I, for one, had a fair amount of fun with all of this.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Callow, Morfyyd Clark, Anna Murphy, Cosimo Fusco, Miriam Margoyles, Ian McNeice, Bill Paterson, Donald Sumpter, Justin Edwards.
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Written by: Susan Coyle
Adapted from the book "The Man Who Invented Christmas" by Les Standiford
Release Date: November 22, 2017
Bleecker Street Media