12 Days of Netflix: The Man Who Invented Christmas
A Christmas Carol references6
Ivan Radford | On 19, Dec 2018
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Cast: Dan Stevens, Mark Schrier, Patrick Joseph Byrnes, Miriam Margolyes
Watch The Man Who Invented Christmas online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
We unwrap a different Christmas film from Netflix’s dubious seasonal selection every day. For 12 days. It’s the 12 Days of Netflix.
“I know the story of A Christmas Carol like the back of my hand,” said Gonzo at the start of The Muppet Christmas Carol, before on to describe his thumb and his wrist in great detail. It’s an inspired opening joke, because it acknowledges the very challenge of adapting the story for the screen: everyone’s seen it all before. The Man Invented Christmas is a sweet attempt to approach the text from new angle: Charles Dickens himself.
Fusing Shakespeare in Love with BBC One’s Dickensian, the result is a seasonal drama that charts the author’s creation of his seminal text – a text so influential and popular that not only does everyone know it, but the way they celebrate the Season has also been dictated, to some degree, by it.
Dan Stevens is in charming form as Charles, and he and the film’s playful script deserve credit for not sugarcoating the writer’s life or his demeanour. In 1843, when he wrote his wildly successful novel, times were tough, with a string of flops leaving him out of favour with his publishers and far from the good books of his wife, who has just discovered she is pregnant with their fifth child. And so he churns out A Christmas Carol in record time – a writing sprint that sees him become rude, reclusive and hardly financially reliable.
But while he’s clearly having a dark time of it, the film is, by its very nature, a feel-good festive tale; London, for all its intended griminess, still comes across as a quaint place to live, with appearances from the usual supporting suspects such as Simon Callow and Miriam Margoyles. And, by delving into Dickens’ inspiration for his work, we’re never more than a few lines of dialogue away from Scrooge’s familiar story. Indeed, the old man himself even makes an appearance, played by Christopher Plummer.
It’s here that the movie doesn’t quite stick the pudding, as the introduction of a fantastical element only highlights that uneven tone. The cast are all good, but Plummer’s Ebenezer is so cold and miserly that you almost wish we just got his A Christmas Carol instead. In a neat touch, he’s contrasted with Jonathan Pryce as Charles’ broke father, an idealistic figure not unlike Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield (yes, he gets a cameo name-drop too). But the jumping from one devil on Dickens’ shoulder to another mostly leaves both wanting more screen time to shine – the same is true of Donald Sumpter, who’s viably enjoying himself as a tight-fisted moneylender putting pressure on our hero.
Do we end up with a better idea of who Dickens was of what happened to inspire A Christmas Carol? Not really. This is more Shakespeare in Love than Shakespeare in Like; the movie is at its best when either focusing on cute, bookish references or giving Stevens the room to flesh out the archetypal troubled artist. Unfortunately, it‘s not so good at wrapping those two things together into one film. It knows the story of A Christmas Carol like the back of its hand, but you won’t come away knowing much more.
The Man Who Invented Christmas is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.