Dickens’ Christmas classic must be one of the most -adapted literary works, with a bewildering range of versions from silent films to The Muppet Christmas Carol and various modernisations, some more successful than others. (I’m especially fond of the Bill Murray movie Scrooged.)
Over the last few years, it’s become a tradition in my household to watch the TV film starring Patrick Stewart, so I thought I’d write a little bit about it for this new blog – and wish a happy Christmas to anyone reading along .
This version, directed by David Jones and scripted by Peter Barnes, keeps a lot of Dickens’ language and that’s one of the things I like most about it, though, as is a problem with so many costume dramas, it doesn’t keep the narrator and has to put some of his lines into the mouths of characters. There are also a few puzzling changes like making Scrooge’s sister “Fran” instead of “Fanny”.
I do enjoy Patrick Stewart’s performance as Scrooge, because he clearly has such a relish for the role - he has toured with a theatrical version for years and his love of Dickens’ language and humour comes across. He really looks too robust for Scrooge as I’d always imagined him, but once you get used to that his portrayal is very enjoyable – with the occasional gloriously hammy moments like the one where he realises he is safely back in his own bed rather than being dead, and shrieks in a semi-hysterical way.
Similarly, Richard E Grant doesn’t really look as anyone would imagine Bob Cratchit, but who cares? I think he plays the part with conviction and like his slight Cockney accent. Saskia Reeves is refreshingly down to earth and also slightly Cockney as Mrs Cratchit, while the little boy playing Tiny Tim (Ben Tibber) is also very good – not too sweet and sugary, with a slightly mischievous look about him which helps to lighten the Cratchit family scenes. The goose and pudding do look very small but tasty.
At times the CGI effects in this film can be slightly intrusive – I think Marley’s ghost could probably leave more to the imagination, and there is an awful lot of people fading away into nothing or magically travelling through walls. I also think it could all be a bit darker and dingier – this production has the same problem of other Hallmark Dickens adaptations in showing a world which seems rather too clean and colourful for the 19th century. Scrooge’s candles light up his home amazingly well when it is supposed to be the middle of the night! However, having said that, I love the way the production constantly evokes the mood of the original illustrations by John Leech. In particular, Desmond Barritt as the Ghost of Christmas Present seems to have stepped right off the pages of the book. Modern visual effects also mean this film can keep the whirlwind visits to the prison, lighthouse and ship at sea which are often cut out.
There’s a lot to enjoy in this production, and I like the way it does give rein to the emotion of the tale, but never becomes too sentimental.