The Man Who Invented Christmas
More than an excuse to pick sentimental audiences’ pockets this holiday season, The Man Who Invented Christmas is the rare film about a writer that manages to make the creative process cinematically entertaining.
The opposite of The Rebel in the Rye, in which J.D. Salinger’s literary inspirations primarily elicited groans, there’s jolly good fun to be had whenever Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) overhears what will become a famous line in his A Christmas Carol or a crucial detail is culled from real life.
Working from Les Standiford’s history of the novella’s importance to the author’s career, screenwriter Susan Coyne and Bharat Nalluri, director of the comparably pleasant period piece Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, concoct a storybook version of early-mid 19th century London and pack it with charming yet flawed and relatable figures.
His back to the proverbial wall after a pair of flops, despite spending money like it’ll never run out (but well aware that it could very soon), Stevens’ Dickens is a compelling core figure as he moves from narrative spark to fleshing out a story that will connect with readers.
Key to his formula (apparently with any of his works) is identifying his main character’s name, and once the moniker Ebenezer Scrooge is finalized, in pops a humbuggy Christopher Plummer — such a natural for the role that it’s a wonder he’s yet to play him until now.
Serving as Dickens’ muse while the writer figures out where the story will go, Scrooge is equal parts encourager and antagonizer, prodding at Dickens’ insecurities and daring him to confront the complicated relationship with his greedy father John (Jonathan Pryce).
Frustrating yet achingly real, the paternal dynamic’s impact on the work of fiction at hand — whose frequent interruptions provide its most inspired comedic moments — injects an otherwise lighthearted tale with gravitas, all of which syncs mostly well without feeling forced.
Bolstered by the wise casting of Simon Callow — who’s played Dickens multiple times — as revered illustrator John Leech and a Love & Friendship reunion between that film’s Vernon couple with Justin Edwards as Dickens’ agent John Forster and Morfydd Clark as Dickens’ wife Kate, The Man Who Invented Christmas maintains an active pace without compromising the authenticity of the slower, bygone setting.
One of the few modern films aimed at adults with little, if any objectionable material, it also doubles as a worthy next step for younger viewers whose minds are ripe for some extratextual education, providing yet another reason to recommend it.
Grade: B-plus. Rated PG. Now playing at Biltmore Grande
(Photo: Bleecker Street)