Directed by Bharat Nalluri
Reviewed by Brandon Bishop, November 27, 2017
“Let me do some good before I die.”
In the early 1840’s, roused by the recent success of Oliver Twist, the people of Britain and America could not wait to read the next great work by Charles Dickens. Unfortunately, Dickens’ next several works were not as well received. The Man Who Invented Christmas finds “Charlie” struggling with writer’s block and slowly slipping into debt. He begins to find inspiration here and there for the work that would soon become A Christmas Carol, and despite caution from friends and an unenthusiastic publisher, Dickens sets out to write the story without financial backing or an ending in mind.
Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey and Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast remake portrays a young Charles Dickens in The Man Who Invented Christmas.
Stevens is as likable as always, and brings a youthful charm to Charles Dickens. His sudden bursts of inspiration have the potential to seem forced or convenient, but he sells them well enough and brings a bit of fun and eccentricity to the screen. His Dickens generally contrasts Christopher Plummer’s Ebenezer Scrooge, who makes fleeting appearances throughout as Dickens finds his way through A Christmas Carol in parallel to his journey as a character. While Plummer appears frequently in the film, he unfortunately doesn’t get much to do and plays a subdued Scrooge, but seeing him on screen in any form is always a privilege. This film is no different, and when Plummer gets his turn, it’s a joy. Jonathan Pryce, whose most well-known roles include the Pirates of the Caribbean films and Game of Thrones, gives an affecting turn as Dickens’ father, a good man who in his time has made some bad decisions.
The film boasts themes of optimism, and fellowship. Even when Charlie can’t seem to find the right words, he finds encouragement and joy in those around him, at times when he doesn’t deserve it. The movie doesn’t forget to remind us about the dark nature of A Christmas Carol, despite its generally charming feel. The gloomy, smoky avenues and parlors of London offer an de-saturated and cold contrast to the movie’s typically upbeat dialogue. Unfortunately, it’s probably not one for the children, and that’s more so because it likely won’t hold their attention more so than it being an inappropriate or unimportant story. It moves along at a not plodding but comfortable pace, and the dreary look, while appealing from a point of view of the craft, may lose the little ones.
Inspiration and Good Will are well-tread themes in holiday fare, but don’t feel overused or cliché when used in the right ways. The Man Who Invented Christmas inspires and charms, and has its fair share of laughs and joys of the holidays as well as the bitter truths of the world and some people who live in it. Dickens goes on a journey alongside Scrooge, and learns nearly as much about himself. His story is lively and heartwarming, and The Man Who Invented Christmas stands proudly as a companion piece to A Christmas Carol, sharing its themes but never boasting itself as too self-important or devolving into holiday clichés. Theaters have, for some time, been devoid of quality holiday movies, and this one changes that.