MOVIE REVIEW: The story behind a beloved holiday classic
CHRISTMAS movies serve a very specific purpose - to get everyone in the seasonal spirit.
They should be non-offensive, not too challenging and leave you with a sense of hope for mankind. Albeit in book form, so much of that template was set by Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, a classic that's been adapted countless times into celluloid, whether in live action, animated or Muppet form.
This latest sort-of adaptation of the classic tale takes a different approach. It tells the story of the behind-the-scenes drama of the birth of this Christmas favourite.
Directed by Bharat Nalluri, The Man Who Invented Christmas credits Dickens as exactly that, the reason why Christmas is celebrated the way it is today with visions of togetherness and cheer. The movie takes a slice - six weeks to be exact - out of the writer's tumultuous life to craft a perfectly charming Christmas experience.
After three commercial failures, Dickens (Dan Stevens) is under pressure to produce another hit, especially as the warm glow of success from Oliver Twist starts to fade away into a background speck.
And it's not just success for success' sake, he's also financially strapped with the bills from his house renovations starting to pile up. When his publishers cut him off, he's desperate to find inspiration for a new book, which he does in the mercurial characters wandering around London - a rude businessman (Christopher Plummer) attending a funeral becomes the genesis for Scrooge.
Soon he sees characters and scenarios all around his life and the story begins to form. The only thing is, in order to publish it and redeem his reputation, Dickens will have to finish it in six weeks and finance its printing. The race is on.
While all this is happening, Dickens also has to deal with his problematic hustler father (Jonathan Pryce), which trudges up painful memories of childhood abandonment.
The Man Who Invented Christmas is part of the sub-sub-genre of texts that's about authorship - the artist, the writer, the creator. While it's not striving to reach the metaphysical heights of Barton Fink or Adaptation, the scenes of Dickens being "tormented" by his creations, especially Scrooge, are quite amusing.
Stevens, best known as the very proper Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey, portrays Dickens with a slightly manic energy, not an ounce of reticence in his personality. It's a refreshing take on an icon that generations of school kids have met with eyerolls at the sight of his name on a reading list. Stevens more than holds his own among veterans like Plummer and Pryce.
The Man Who Invented Christmas isn't a barnstormer but it's exactly the kind of holiday fare that will cure a bout of humbugness. Bring the family.
The Man Who Invented Christmas is in cinemas now.
The Man Who Invented Christmas
Stars: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Miriam Margolyes.
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Verdict: 3 stars