Written by Peter Barnes and Charles Dickens
Directed by David Hugh Jones
One production I had wanted to see back when we lived in New York was Patrick Stewart’s one-man play depicting Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I hadn’t seen this production by TNT/Hallmark prior to coming across it on DVD, and I anticipated something akin to what I missed all those years.
That wasn’t quite what I got. While I did enjoy this version of A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart starring as Ebenezer Scrooge, it wasn’t the one-man show. The tale is told fairly well, however.
For anyone who doesn’t know the story, Scrooge is a crabby miser living a solitary life that seems pretty miserable. It’s Christmas and the town where he lives is getting ready to celebrate. Scrooge, however, doesn’t see the point. To him, the holiday is just another excuse for people to shirk their obligations. He even expects his employee Bob Cratchit (portrayed by Richard E. Grant) to be available to work, and only reluctantly allows him time off.
After his rejection of the happiness of the season, he has a dream where he is warned by a former business partner that he will be visited that night by three ghosts. One will show his past, one will show the present, and one will show what the future will be like if he does nothing to change it.
The look of this version of A Christmas Carol is excellent. The cinematography captures a home lit by candles with shadows and half-lit faces, rather than falling into a trap that many other period films do which look too bright for the lighting of that time period. There are some terrific special effects, right from when Jacob Marley first appears to Scrooge. It’s nothing ground-breaking, but these haven’t been seen before in a film this closely resembling Dickens’ original story.
The score is wonderful and authentic to the time period. The costuming is good as well. The attention to these sorts of details makes the film a visual masterpiece.
The acting is first-rate. Stewart captures the old miser completely without sympathy, rather than having him with a comedic or sarcastic tone. Some other portrayals descend to the point that the performance is on the edge of absurdity. Stewart strikes a nice balance in the man of someone who has turned his heart cold in the face of what life has dealt him.
What helps in this regard is the contrast with actors opposite him. In particular, I loved the performance of Dominic West as Scrooge’s nephew, Fred. This is a character often deleted from other versions of this story, and here it truly shows a contrast to Scrooge. It would be easy to dismiss his attitude as coming from a poor environment or possibly genetics, but Fred’s presence makes the case that it is more the way Scrooge has interpreted and dealt with what’s happened in his life. He has turned to a love of money and spurned love of humanity, while Fred had embraced the exact opposite. While Fred still wants to love his Uncle unconditionally, Scrooge doesn’t want it for fear of what exposing that vulnerability will mean in the long run. The two make a great contrast in the scenes they have together.
All of the supporting cast are strong opposite Stewart and really make the scenes with his work. Richard E. Grant as Bob Cratchit nails the part as well. Other productions I have seen have him look like a simpering idiot who evokes little sympathy for taking all of what Scrooge seems to dish out at him. Grant does a superb job humanizing Cratchit and keeping a good balance in the character.
The three ghosts were excellent as well. Only Joel Gray as the Ghost of Christmas Past was familiar to me. At times, both he and Desmond Barrit as the Ghost of Christmas Present seemed to have a darkly sardonic tone, although no real humor. It gave the ghosts just the right amount of edginess and gravity.
That’s not to say there aren’t some terrific moments of humor in the production. However, it is dominated by a darker feel than other adaptations. If you are looking for a comedic version, I would suggest going elsewhere. This is uplifting in the end for the holiday season, but not necessarily the saccharine sweet feel-good movie some look for this time of year. For that, I suggest It’s A Wonderful Life.
• Cast & Crew
• Behind the Scenes of “A Christmas Carol: