From 1951’s Scrooge, starring Alastair Sims to 1992’s A Muppet Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’ best-known novel, A Christmas Carol, has been done to death. There is no doubt whatever about that. This festive season the BBC has dug deep into their Victorian vaults and enlisted Ridley Scott, Tom Hardy and Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight to update and take this classic down a dark and chilling back alley for a fresh new take.
Set over three nights starting on the 22nd of December, the miniseries takes us a little deeper into Ebenezer Scrooge’s mean and miserly psyche. A broader picture is painted of the characters we are so used to seeing as just one dimensional. Not only does it tap into the humanity of Scrooge’s soul it also adds the flavour of diversity and mixing up the plot we finally get to see more of Mrs Cratchit and the big family secret she holds, Bob Cratchit seems to have finally grown a spine whilst Scrooge’s sister, Lottie, takes on the form of the Ghost of Christmas Present.
For years, people only see what is on the surface of Ebenezer Scrooge, played in this adaptation with such an ugly grimacing face by Guy Pearce. In 1843, when Dickens novel was first published, the world was a different place to what we know now. If Dickens were alive in this era would he have taken his mighty quill and penned something of a much darker tone like Knight has here? For Knight, that could have been a possibility. For his own take, Knight studied the words of Dickens and sort out the clues, forensically picking apart his story to delve into his bleak and lonely world.
“I think that when Dickens was writing there are certain things he couldn’t really deal with because of the sensibilities of the time. What I did was go through the story forensically and look for things that maybe were implied and suggested and clues that could start to lead to an explanation as to why Scrooge is like he is. At the time Dickens was writing it wasn’t an obligation on the part of the writer to necessarily ask that question, why is this character like this? I just wondered if there were clues in the stories to why Scrooge is that person. I hope when people see it, the things that happen, especially in the next 2 hours (episodes 2 & 3) things will happen that they will find taps to roots within the text” commented Knight.
“I think he is very well understood, I think he misunderstands the world. If you’re optimistic you think he become really himself when he is good rather than really himself when he is bad”.
As well as Andy Serkis in the role of the Ghost of Christmas past, The Irishman actor, Stephen Graham, gets himself all freakishly chained up as the ghost of long-time friend and business partner Jacob Marley. Bound to purgatory and the soul of Scrooge, the only way he can save his own soul, his own redemption lies in the fate of being able to get Scrooge to change his ways – watch out for that jaw-dropping moment in episode one. The key for getting through the heavy darkness of the plot for Graham was simply to have some fun and having to the pleasure for the first time ever to actually be screwed into his costume.
“The way it had been adapted, I just loved the script, I just thought I wanted to have a bit of fun and a laugh with it. The vision that was there from the very beginning, with the costume department, the make-up department, the craftsmanship on set was unbelievable. They create this world for you, you trust them complicity. No disrespect but with the text, you think does it sound right but he [director Nick Murphy] just makes you feel comfortable and relaxed, you have the trust of the other actors.
“When I first looked at myself in the mirror all I could see is A Muppet Christmas Carol, I did get over that and had a lot of fun, really enjoyed it. It is a dark, reflection of humanity but our job is to just play ad have some fun” Graham said in his thick Mersey accent.
Scrooge isn’t the only character central to the story; we all know the story of the poor put upon Bob Cratchit, played with a wily charm by Joe Alwyn. The ever-loyal employee of Mr Scrooge takes what he is given, always sees the good in the man that pays him a pittance with a larger than life destitute family to support including the crippled Tiny Tim. Knight has ripped up the rule book here and re-written what is firmly ingrained in the original text. Bob no less has built up a bit of a backbone, addressing Scrooge with a never before seen element of wit and sarcasm. His family has shrunk to a wife and 2 kids – yes we still have Tiny Tim – and his wife Mrs Mary Cratchit, played by Vinette Robinson, finally gets her time in the spotlight with a big secret hidden under her apron.
“I haven’t seen a huge amount of other iterations before, but I loved the script, from what I had seen it had done something slightly different. Looked into Scrooge’s pain and why he is the way he is in a way that hadn’t been seen before.
“He has a bit more spine to him, he is still in the same position we always see him in, toiling away but with a touch of wit or sarcasm but he’s aware not to overstep the boundary because he can’t afford to. As is revealed, there are secrets and cracks at home that emerge that also ties back to the workplace and Scrooge” said Alwyn.
Robinson commented “The relationship with her family, Bob and Scrooge is very clear on the page and beautifully written so there is real meat to get into there. It’s so great because there aren’t any women in the Dickens version, so it’s great to see what the circumstances would be like from their point of view and also the side of Scrooge she brings out. She explores that perverse side of him, she brings that to light”.
One thing this version gets right is the inclusion of more not just more women to this version but Knight has given them a voice. Not only do we get to see and hear more about Mrs Cratchit and the secrets she possesses but the ghost of Christmas Present has been swapped out for a woman in the form of Charlotte Riley who just also happens to be Scrooge’s dearly departed sister.
“Steve took a really good opportunity to enhance the depth of Scrooge by adding a character where obviously playing siblings, there is a huge amount of depth there. You can explore more about him and who is as she holds a mirror up to him as only a sibling can do. I like to think she’s dragged from the other side over to give him a good kick up the arse and that’s what she does. She does it in a way that’s different to the other spirits and she brings a completely different energy. It’s great having that character as a woman and a sibling which is often a relationship that doesn’t often doesn’t get explored on-screen” said Riley.
There you have it, Stephen Knight’s horrifying but hopeful adaptation of this Christmas classic may not be what you expect from this overdone story but it fits a timely mental exploration of humanity that makes up a deeply hellish and enticing drama.
Episode 1 of A Christmas Carol will air on BBC from 9pm on the 22nd of December, with the following 2 episodes on consecutive nights.