When I recall my experience watching The Man Who Invented Christmas, the word that keeps coming to mind is "Delightful". This film is just delightful. Now, I may have just been a sucker for it, after all I am a fan of the original book and have not yet found an adaptation that I disliked. But this film also had a responsibility to fans like me, and even more so to fans of Charles Dickens himself. Thank God this film took that responsibility seriously without completely diminishing the somewhat necessary whimsical tone.
The Man Who Invented Christmas is not solely about the conception of that classic Christmas tale, but also about Dickens’ general writing process and how his work was often an extension of his own life. It is easy for anyone to distance himself from the character of Ebenezer Scrooge, to look at his contempt for frivolities and human connection and say to oneself “I am not as bad as him”. But what makes Scrooge a timeless character is that we all have the potential to be like him. According to this movie, Scrooge was a representation of what Dickens feared he was becoming. Why he was becoming this kind of person, I will not give away for anyone who went in more-or-less blind as I did. But I will say that it is heartbreakingly relatable.
What I never knew about Dickens was his approach to writing. During this film, he catches a bad case of writers block, is often interrupted by his family including his optimistically and financially irresponsible father, and is buried by his own doubts for his future. In a sense, he is living out the tale he would come to write only with eccentricity rather than mysticism. All throughout Dickens keeps a notebook of names he finds unique to possibly use in his stories later. The first we encounter is the ever-familiar, Marley, whom even plays the A Christmas Carol character in Dickens’ imagination later. This is a charming foreshadowing into the real-life influences that Dickens incorporated into his works; for some it might act as a kind of Easter-egg hunt, one near the end had me squealing with delight.
His method of finding the names leads me to what I found most unique about this portrayal of Dickens; his writing method for creating his characters. He takes the pieces of people and scenes that he stumbles upon, then comprises them into the skeleton of a character structure. From there, he puts all of his energy into finding the perfect name. There is a particularly funny bit when Dickens is stuck on Scrooge’s name. We hear “Scratch”, “Scrump”, “Scr…” all with exaggerated rolling R’s but never hamming it up. It is with this playful and enchanted anticipation that we as the audience await the destined name. It is played for chuckles, then played for intrigue when Dickens finally conjures up the name followed by conversing with the character. Yes, once he has the name of the character down, the character appears before him and Dickens then proceeds to get to know the character rather than build the character. I learned from my author friend afterward that this technique is quite common among writers, and for someone who only writes cynical movie reviews, I think The Man Who Invented Christmas was a thoughtful introduction to that.
Parallel to A Christmas Carol, The Man Who Invented Christmas maintains a tone of hopefulness throughout. Despite all of the hardships that life has bestowed on our hero, Mr. Dickens, there is hope that people can change, can express humanity toward their fellow man, can find goodness in others. The movie reveals Dickens life through the eyes of his other successful books, most notably Oliver Twist, and is just dark enough where you get the emotion of how difficult his life was to him but never without an escape back to the lighter moments.
I love A Christmas Carol and am building a greater knowledge and admiration for Dickens’ other works. The Man Who Invented Christmas is a delightful escape into the mind of England’s favorite classic opera while conveying that there is hope for life and a person to become better. I plan on seeing it again while I am celebrating the holiday with my family, and recommend it to you too, fair reader.