ReelBob: ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’ ★★★
By Bob Bloom
The title may be a trifle misleading, but an argument can be made that Charles Dickens is the man who invented Christmas.”
Not the holiday, per se, but the way people view and celebrate it.
Dan Stevens gives a lively performance as the famous author who, despite his success and celebrity, is in turmoil at the outset of “The Man Who Invented Christmas.”
He is in debt, his wife is expecting another child, his last three novels were flops and — worst of all — he is suffering from writer’s block.
One of the challenges of making a biopic about any artist is translating the creative process to the screen.
I like to point to Richard Attenborough’s “Chaplin” as a prime example. In Attenborough’s film, Chaplin is stuck while making “City Lights” on the key plot point of how to make the blind flower girl mistake Chaplin’s Little Tramp for a millionaire.
One day, at his studio, Chaplin hears a car-door slam and — eureka! — problem solved.
Director Bharat Nalluri and writer Susan Coyne depict how Dickens uses the sights and sounds of London for inspiration, and how he constantly writes down odd names that he hears, hoping it will stimulate his imagination.
The charm of “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is watching how the harried Dickens who, needing money as usual, tells his publishers he can have the story written and illustrated within six weeks in time for the Christmas season. As he labors over the story at his desk in his study, he imagines the characters springing to life and talking to him.
Of course, his main character is Ebenezer Scrooge, as portrayed by Christopher Plummer. Scrooge is Dickens’ alter ego — his dark side, if you will — his voice of doom, constantly reminding him of his shortcomings as a man, a son, a husband, a father and, most importantly, a writer.
Plummer gives a crafty performance. His Scrooge is a cynic who, as opposed to Dickens, sees the worst in people.
The two constantly battle as Dickens constructs his tale.
A subplot focusing on Dickens’ relationship with his irresponsible father, played by Jonathan Pryce, is the passageway to that bleak period in Dickens childhood when he was consigned to the workhouse when the rest of his family went to debtors’ prison.
When Dickens comes to terms with his own past, he finally is able to resolve how to finish his book, which he titles “A Christmas Carol.”
At the outset, I mentioned how Dickens, while not inventing the holiday, did alter the way people perceive it. After the publication of the story, people became more aware of the inequities in society and saw the poverty, the workhouses, the foul conditions in which many of their fellows lived.
People, following Scrooge’s reformation in the book, began taking more responsibility in offering a helping hand to those less fortunate than themselves.
As such, Christmas took on a more secular connotation. It was more than the birth of Jesus; it became a time to remember the Golden Rule and to do what one could to improve the lives of others — even for just a day or two.
“The Man Who Invented Christmas” has its gloomy moments, but, overall, it trumpets not only the author but the holiday.
This film works mightily to embrace the Christmas spirit.
I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS
3 stars out of 4
(PG), language, some disturbing images, adult themes