The Man Who Invented Christmas
Updated: Feb 5
It is October of 1843 and Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens, finishing off a big 2017 where he also played the Beast in Beauty and the Beast and starred on FX’s Legion) is struggling. His last three books all flopped and he is having financial difficulties. He is in desperate need of a success when he is struck with the idea for a Christmas novel. That gives him six weeks to write the book and have it illustrated, printed and promoted before Christmas.
The Man Who Invented Christmas tells the story of Dickens' A Christmas Carol (adapted from the 2008 non-fiction book The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford) in a movie that attempts to be charming and crowd-pleasing, but instead comes off as dull and overly eager to be liked.
The approach the story takes is that all of Dicken’s characters were influenced by people in his life. So the film gives us sketches of people that Dickens can be inspired by. There is his wife, Kate (Morfydd Clark), his father, John (the enjoyable Jonathan Pryce, who portrayed the High Sparrow on HBO’s Game of Thrones), his housekeeper, Mrs. Fisk (Miriam Margolyes, Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter series), his new maid, Tara (Anna Murphy) and his best friend, Forster (Justin Edwards), among others.
As he begins writing the book, the characters speak to him. Literally. Chiefly, he gets advice and criticism from his protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge (Dickens bases Scrooge on a miser he runs into one night, played by the great Christopher Plummer (a Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner in 2012 for Beginners). The other characters he creates all take on the form of people in his life). The way the film visualizes Dickens’ creative process is neat, but it never becomes more than a gimmick. It is more visually pleasing than narration but, in the end, that is pretty much what it amounts to. It puts viewers in his head, so we can understand his struggles and how he gets over them. Unfortunately, the filmmakers never make his conversations with himself interesting or insightful.
The Man Who Invented Christmas (97 minutes not including the end credits) is such an oversimplification of this story. It wants so badly to be a charming story about art imitating life, but I had a hard time believing anything about it. The cast is full of actors that have the ability to be charming, but they have not been given characters to play. They are all just basic sketches of people (this is especially true in Plummer’s case), only there so audience members can say “so that’s where the idea for (insert character name here) came from!” The story itself is obvious and, even at its relatively short length, I grew restless about halfway through.
It is difficult to show a writer’s creative process in an entertaining way. The basic idea of The Man Who Invented Christmas is a decent one; it is too bad they were not able to follow that up with a compelling narrative.
2 out of 5
Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens
Christopher Plummer as Ebenezer Scrooge
Justin Edwards as John Forster
Jonathan Pryce as John Dickens
Morfydd Clark as Kate Dickens
Anna Murphy as Tara
Miriam Margolyes as Mrs. Fisk
Miles Jupp as William Makepeace Thackeray
Directed by Bharat Nalluri
Screenplay by Susan Coyne