Saturday, November 25, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

My second theatrical film of Thanksgiving weekend was THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS (2017), a fanciful telling of how Charles Dickens came to write A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Other than the title being in questionable taste -- it refers to Dickens helping to establish modern Christmas customs and celebrations -- this film was a pleasant watch. I didn't find it especially noteworthy (perhaps I was a little spoiled by yesterday's COCO being such a stellar experience), but I enjoyed it. Speaking of modern Christmas customs, it's always nice to have a new Christmas film to watch!

Dan Stevens (DOWNTON ABBEY) plays Dickens, who has hit an artistic roadblock following OLIVER TWIST and a tour of America. With a growing family depending on his success, he eventually latches onto the idea of writing a Christmas story. When he and his loyal agent and friend (Justin Edwards) are unable to sell the idea to his publishers, Dickens decides to risk his finances by self-publishing the book. Adding to the pressure, he's up against a tight deadline to publish the book before Christmas.

We follow Dickens as his pastime of collecting real people's names results in some of the unusual character names in the book, while bits and pieces of his daily experiences begin to make it to the written page. More significantly, as the story unfurls he is visited by the characters, most particularly Ebeneezer Scrooge himself, wonderfully played by Christopher Plummer.

Plummer's appearance in the film adds considerable weight to this spun sugar story, and his arguments with Dickens regarding the course of the story and his character's fate are some of the film's most enjoyable moments.

Stevens is fine as Dickens, whose essentially kind persona becomes increasingly self-centered when in the grips of his creative process. (You'd probably be a bit short-tempered also if you had a dozen characters only you can see sitting around your writing desk, impatiently waiting for you to finish!) Morfydd Clark plays his patient wife, Kate. Jonathan Pryce and Simon Callow are also among the large cast.

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS was directed by Bharat Nalluri, who also did the fine MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (2008). It was filmed by Ben Smithard. The running time is 104 minutes.

Parental Advisory: THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS is rated PG for "thematic elements" and minor language. The most disturbing sequence involves Dickens looking back on his childhood working in a rat-filled shoe factory after his father was taken to debtors' prison. On the up side, this is an unorthodox telling of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, with all the story's positive messages dressed up in a new package.

Leonard Maltin found the film "heartwarming family fare," while Gary Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times found it a "jaunty, amusing patchwork of truths, half-truths and pure fiction that cleverly combine."

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS is worth a look during the coming weeks. Merry Christmas!


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