The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on November 17, 2017 @

The Man Who Invented Christmas puts the hum in "humbug."

It's the appealing story of how author Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) grappled with debt and writer's block and then set out to write a Christmas story, which became A Christmas Carol. The original was subtitled "A Ghost Story of Christmas."

It is set in 1842 in America and 1843 in London. Dickens returns from a trip to the United States, facing three literary "flops," one of them a book about his trip. [I've eaten often at the Golden Lamb in Lebanon, Ohio, where Dickens stayed on April 20, 1842. It was then named the Barclay House. Dickens called it, "the Temperance Hotel," since he was unable to obtain liquid spirits. Fortunately, intemperance flowed when I was there.]

As Dickens struggles to write, he is influenced by a young house maid Tara (Anna Murphy), who introduces him to stories about ghostly presences. This awakens characters who visit him to help him create. Of course, Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) is the most influential of them.

His debtor father (Jonathan Pryce) intrudes with pipe dreams. Dickens is supported by his loyal wife (Morfydd Clark) and his agent/friend John Forster (Justin Edwards). There is a motley group of old, selfish reprobates who influence Dickens in his identifying his characters.

The Man Who Invented Christmas has a screenplay by Susan Coyne, based on a book by Les Standiford. It is piecemeal but entertaining.

The artful direction by Bharat Nalluri emphasizes mood, with cinematographer Ben Smithard creating felicitous shafts of light.

But the film most depends on the acting.

English actor Dan Stevens, who became a heartthrob when he played an American in the television classic Downton Abbey, returns to his roots as Charles Dickens. His character hardly ever blinks, has wild eyes and shaggy hair, and gesticulates fitfully. He is intense but thoughtful.

In Downton Abbey, Stevens was able to perform with the inestimable actress Maggie Smith. In The Man Who Invented Christmas, Stevens is able to share the screen with another inestimable actor - Christopher Plummer. As Ebenezer Scrooge, Plummer keeps Christopher in Christmas. His performance is a delightful gift.

Anna Murphy as an Irish lass is reminiscent of the young Margaret O'Brien. And Jonathan Pryce adds spice to the brew as the irresponsible father.

The key to watching The Man Who Invented Christmas is to get on its wave length. Unlike the invented scenes in Darkest Hour, which are saccharine and contrived, The Man Who Invented Christmas is credible.

All you have to do is believe.

© 2000-2018 Tony Macklin