The Man Who Invented Christmas

How Dickens made the holiday season so quintessentially Victorian.

Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) holds his quill over a blank piece of paper. After the Harry Potter-like success of Oliver Twist, and the subsequent failure of Martin Chuzzlewit, the author is stuck in a rut. Bharat Nalluri’s film The Man Who Invented Christmas takes place in 1843, during the months leading up to that December’s publication of A Christmas Carol. It’s a retelling of the classic holiday tale — one told while under construction. In fits and starts, the writer’s imagination pieces together everyday material along with some inner torments.

At home, Dickens overhears his children’s Irish nursemaid narrating a ghost story set on Christmas Eve. A servant called Marley waits on him at a gentleman’s club. He makes a mental note of the man’s name. But Dickens isn’t able to write anything substantial down until an elderly miser spits “Bah! Humbug!” in his face. Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) is the unlikely muse he’s been waiting for. The director imitates Tim Burton’s exaggerated camera movements — see Dark Shadows — and the soundtrack is never hushed. Despite the nearly animated sense of frenzy, you notice every supporting actor’s commitment to both time and place. And Plummer is the quintessential Scrooge. He plays the man like a Captain Von Trapp who loved but never wed his Maria. The sound of music may have faded but he remembers the meaning behind every lost note.

The Man Who Invented Christmas
Rated PG.

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