Most of us know that Charles Dickens was a prolific and very successful author in Victorian England. However, in 1843, as detailed in "The Man Who Invented Christmas", after several very best-selling books, then three dismal flops, Dickens had to self-publish "A Christmas Carol". His publisher wasn't interested in a story about a holiday --- Christmas --- which was in decline in popularity.
Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) is only 31 years old, and yet he is already a celebrated novelist --- a handsome, dashing figure grown accustomed to a certain way of life. He is married to Kate (Morfydd Clark), who is pregnant with their fifth child. His last three efforts were not well received, and now he really needs a profitable book. Unfortunately, he's suffering from a bit of writers' block.
Not helping matters is the presence of his father, John Dickens (Jonathan Pryce), a ne'er-do-well who survives by going through his son's trash and selling off scraps of his writing. Charles has purchased a home for his father and mother in the country, but they prefer
London --- and residing in Charles' spectacular town home.
It is six weeks until Christmas and Dickens alights on the idea of a story about a miser named Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) and his encounters with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. Assisted by his closest friend, John Forster (Justin Edwards), Dickens manages to complete his work, getting it illustrated and published by Christmas --- a stupendous feat. Now --- will it be a success?
Based on the 2008 novel, "The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits" by Les Standiford, with a lovely and charming screenplay by Susan Coyne, director Bharat Nalluri guides us through Dickens' creative process for one of the best-loved stories of all time. "A Christmas Carol" is considered a masterpiece and it definitely altered the conception of Christmas and how it is celebrated.
Dickens, himself, was a fun and generous person. Stevens brings him to life with a zaniness often attributed to Dickens. Apparently, the author really did stand in front of a mirror acting out his characters in strange voices and mannerisms. Stevens gives Dickens a certain rambunctious panache, infusing him with a personality pleasing to all.
Plummer and Pryce are excellent choices for the two eccentrics --- one a nasty curmudgeon and the other a flimflam man. These two veterans excel at scene stealing and screen presence. I love them both.
And I love Christmas! It's my favorite time of the year. Nalluri and his crew do a splendid job of recreating the atmosphere of a Victorian holiday in London --- costumes, sound track, et al. If "The Man Who Invented Christmas" doesn't catapult you into the proper Christmas spirit, you may want to consult a doctor.
Opinion: See It Now!
Charles Dickens didn't exactly invent Christmas, but his classic novel "A Christmas Carol" certainly revived the holiday, and changed the way people celebrated it. "The Man Who Invented Christmas" is a period piece -- the kind that Jeanne lives for --- with authentic set designs, costumes and the requisite horse and carriages.
The movie is destined to become a classic in its own right because it traces the history -- much of it factual in content --- of Dickens' struggle to complete his book. The once-revered author --- the film opens with Dickens (Dan Stevens) on stage in America to great adulation, primarily due to "Oliver Twist" --- is now coping with three successive flops. With a fifth child on the way, and a lavish lifestyle to sustain, the pressure is on to reap the financial benefits of another best seller.
Stevens (the ill-fated Matthew Crawley of "Downton Abbey" fame) is superb as the frustrated Dickens suffering from severe writers' block. The film's unique and clever presentation is the work of screenwriter Susan Coyne, adapted from the book by Les Standiford.
As Dickens struggles with his novel and deals with repudiations from his publishers, his thoughts and ideas are manifested on screen by actors who represent the very colorful characters he concocts, visible only to him. Indeed, after languishing for many minutes over the name of his chief antagonist, Mr. Scrooge, the old miser himself appears for the first time. He is played by Christopher Plummer, magnificent as usual, and perfectly cast. The equally great Jonathan Pryce plays Dickens' father John, who is essentially a failure in life, and a leech to his son.
When Dickens offers his in-progress novel to his housemaid Tara for her input, she vehemently complains that Tiny Tim must not die. This becomes one of the author's greatest conundrums as he puts the finishing touches on "A Christmas Carol". Anna Murphy plays Tara --- her character is a vital cog in the story, and she is a delightful young actress.
Other cast notables include Justin Edwards as Charles' best friend and literary confidante, John Forster. And the appearances by Dickens' four adorable young children are all too brief.
While "The Man Who Invented Christmas" is sluggish in the beginning, the movie gains momentum as Charles agonizes, interacts with his ghost-like characters, and ultimately finishes what may be his greatest work. "A Christmas Carol" was completed in 1843 and the initial printing of 6000 copies sold out immediately.
Dickens went on to pen classics like "David Copperfield" (1849), "A Tale of Two Cities" (1859) and "Great Expectations" (1861). Watching Dan Stevens in the lead role feels like we're witnessing the real man in his lifetime. It's an awesome performance, and "The Man Who Invented Christmas" is top-notch entertainment.
Opinion: See It Now!