For a storyteller, inspiration can strike anywhere at any time, and in the case of Charles Dickens in “The Man Who Invented Christmas” that process is put before us in the most fantastical way imaginable.
For many I imagine Charles Dickens is a name only, sure it’s connected to some of the greatest books of all time, “Oliver Twist,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” “Hard Times,” and I could be here for days, I think you get the point. But at the end of the day, he’s merely the name on those dust jackets.
This magical tale which weaves together history and a few more fantastic elements begins with Mr. Dickens (Dan Stevens) in dire straights following the flop of “Martin Chuzzlewit.” What? You haven’t heard of “Martin Chuzzlewit”?
The failure has left him struggling financially and creatively, that is until he overhears the new housemaid, Tara (Anna Murphy), telling an Irish Christmas ghost story (with some truly impressive sound effects). At once Charles knows what his next story will be.
I know at this point it sounds like Charles Dickens stole his story from a housemaid, and you’re not entirely wrong, but that’s just the start of this story. What follows is a series of small but significant moments of inspiration—a chance encounter with a stern old man (Christopher Plummer) in a graveyard (the only soul to show up for the burial of his business partner), a visit from his young, sickly nephew, lunch served by a waiter named Marley (Donald Sumpter). Can you see it now?
Charles does, literally, and as these characters come alive for him, we get to see them come to life on-screen, as we watch Charles direct his characters and sort out the story for himself.
The most fascinating of these interactions is, of course, with the man himself, Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge (again…Christopher Plummer) who Charles at first dismisses as one-dimensional and unredeemable. It’s only through the eyes of others he’s able to see that people can change. And while it may not be precisely how it happened, it does make for a wondrous adventure and a marvelous interpretation of the writing process.
Those familiar with the work of Mr. Dickens will be familiar with his stance on the poor and the way they were (and are) treated by the upper class. You can’t tell the story of writing “A Christmas Carol” without it, and it’s clear from beginning to end. At times in full-blown fury and in quieter moments too. Each is poignant and tragically still relevant. I know there are those out there who will roll their eyes at the sentiment, but to those few I say humbug.
Then we come to the tale that this tale is about, “A Christmas Carol,” which is a marvel in and of itself. The fact that in a world in no danger of running short on Christmas stories and Elfs and Polar Expresses and Snowmisers coming out of our eyeballs, a story that’s pushing 200 years, is still capturing our hearts and imaginations is a testament to its timelessness and its enduring spirit. Of course, the literary historians out there may be quick to point out that “The Night Before Christmas” was published 20 years before “A Christmas Carol” came to be, but that, my dears, is beside the point.
This origin story of a story is a delight from beginning to end whether you’ve practically memorized this classic Christmas tale, or are discovering it for the first time (I would imagine).