The holiday film The Man Who Invented Christmas doesn’t provide much insight into how novelist Charles Dickens “invented” Christmas. It does, however, provide an entertaining look behind the scenes at the story surrounding Dickens’ beloved classic, A Christmas Carol.
The comedy/drama delves into the period of time in Charles Dickens’ life when he was coming off sluggish sells of his work and needed something catchy to snag readers. Inspired by random people he met during his everyday excursions in public, Charles came up with the brilliant idea to write a story set at Christmas. Apparently, although it is barely touched on in the film, the holiday wasn’t that big of a deal back in Dickens’ time. However, he believed there would be an audience receptive to a story that involved ghosts, Christmas, and redemption.
Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, Legion, Downton Abbey) is perfectly cast as husband/father/frustrated novelist Charles Dickens. Charles is suffering from a severe case of writer’s block as the film opens, and the novelist who was once the toast of the town has had a bad run of luck.
He’s about to be a father for the fifth time, his wife is lavishly redecorating their home, and he’s supporting his penniless father. He feels an exorbitant amount of pressure to deliver a bestseller, but it turns out his publisher isn’t keen on the idea of a Christmas-themed novel. If Charles wants to follow this idea down the rabbit hole, he’ll have to do it on his own – which is just what he decides to do. He gathers his own funding and working off a self-imposed deadline, drives himself crazy attempting to put out the book in just a matter of weeks.
As Charles works, the characters who populate his imagination and who’ll be woven into A Christmas Carol spring to life. The film uses actors on screen to represent the colorful characters, with each earning increasingly fleshed-out personalities as Charles weaves his holiday tale. They speak to him, chide him for his missteps, and taunt him when he seems bent on continuing down the wrong path in the writing process. Most notably, the story’s central character – Ebenezer Scrooge – becomes a part of Charles’ life. Scrooge is even shown convincing Dickens the ending to A Christmas Carol must be one that reveals even someone as miserly as he can be redeemed.
Dan Stevens is surrounded by an impressive ensemble including Christopher Plummer as Mr. Scrooge. Plummer so well embodies the role that the film leaves you wanting a full production of A Christmas Carol with him in the lead. Jonathan Pryce is also outstanding as Dickens’ father, John, who gets by financially only due to the fact he’s related to the famous writer. (He even sells his son’s autographs to make money.)
The production design and costumes are fantastic, bringing the mid-1800s vibrantly to life on the screen. The Man Who Invented Christmas is surprisingly sweet and, after a somewhat sluggish start, hits all the right holiday notes.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and some mild language
Running Time: 104 minutes
Directed By: Bharat Nalluri
Written By: Susan Coyne
Based on the Book By: Les Standiford