Movie Review: ‘THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS’ charms with origin to beloved holiday classic

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS

Rated PG, 104 minutes.
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Cast: Dan StevensChristopher PlummerJonathan PryceSimon CallowMiriam MargolyesIan McNeice and Donald Sumpter

Charles Dickens’ classic holiday novella, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, has arguably become as ingrained into modern holiday culture as Santa Claus himself. With a staggering amount of adaptations ranging from stage plays, cartoons, and even Muppets, you’d be hard pressed to find someone today who has not experienced this story in some way, shape, or form. With such a huge cultural impact, it’s no surprise that audiences would eventually be treated to a film focusing on how the story came to be. Adapted from the 2011 book of the same name, THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS sets out to be such a film.

Set in England in the fall of 1843, acclaimed author Charles Dickens (a charming Dan Stevens) is struggling with a severe case of writer’s block after a streak of mediocre releases, each failing to live up to his best selling OLIVER TWIST. In dire need of a hit to keep him and his family afloat, Dickens declares his next book will center on the “minor” holiday of Christmas and will fly off store shelves. Adding onto the stress of impending bankruptcy, Dickens would only have six weeks to write, illustrate and print the book by Christmas Day.

As mentioned above, with the vast amount of versions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL available, nearly every one of them comes with a figurative check-list of references to lines and plot points from the source material. (“If they’re going to die, they’d better do it and decrease the surplus population.”) This film also ticks off these boxes, but does so as a means for Dickens to find inspiration from interactions with those around him, allowing the references to appear fresh rather than cliche.

The film takes a rather creative approach in portraying Dickens’ writing process, in that his characters literally come to life and interact with him as he meticulously figures out what makes them work as characters. Not unlike the book itself, these apparitions are often played by the same actors who interact with Dickens outside his fantasy world. This effect functions at its best when he and Scrooge (a perfectly cast Christopher Plummer) share the screen. Plummer takes what has become a holiday caricature over the years and truly offers a glimpse of humanity behind his stark, furrowed brow.

With Christmas Day inching its way ever closer, Dickens begins to reflect particular traits of his own creation. His honorable desire to finish his book in time to provide for his family eventually drives him to push his family away in pursuit of greatness. It’s a clever parallel that reinforces the theme of blurred lines between Dickens’ life and the worlds he creates. This can be seen most clearly in the way Charles coldly closes his door to his own father (a sympathetic Jonathan Pryce) while in the very process of writing a story about yuletide compassion.

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS is a delightful film. While it can occasionally delve into some melodramatic elements, its flaws can easily be overlooked thanks to its charming cast and inventive methods of breathing unexpected new life into a source material with far too many existing adaptations. This is certainly a film best enjoyed with the whole family at the theater.

Grade: B

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS is now playing.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.