As regular as Christmas clockwork, no sooner do the evenings begin to draw in and the firesides begin to warm the house with their soft glow, the seasonal TV and movie schedules come out. We all have our yuletide favourites – well-remembered classics from our childhood which sit alongside more recent festive fare – but one story reigns high above all else as the perfect Christmas tale.
There have been many dozens of adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol over the years. Some set their scene in the traditional Victoriana of Dickens’ tale, others go farther afield, gender-swapping Scrooge or even anthropomorphise him as with the 1998 video classic – An All Dogs Christmas Carol. Anyone can be rich and redeemed! Or they can start gaming at an online kasino from all over the world.
This should come as no surprise. Scrooge is the country’s most beloved Dickens character after all. Bugs Bunny, The Smurfs and Flintstones have their own versions of the classic tale. Even the Looney Tunes got in on the act when they gave us Bah Humduck! which as a pun works quite well, if not as a memorable adaptation.
We’ve had musical Scrooges and animated Cratchits; modern day clothes placed on old sturdy frames. It is a timeless tale of redemption and rejuvenation that has become a perennial seasonal offering. Today we’re celebrating our favourite on-screen Scrooges. And we start with a toe-tapping miser who sees the error of his ways through the medium of song.
Albert Finney – Scrooge (1970)
The 1970 musical directed by Ronald Neame is dripping with Technicolor Victorian atmosphere. The studiobound streets of London are dark, crowded thoroughfares populated by cheeky carol singers and chocolate box stereotypes. Like the musical version of Cinderella, 1976’s The Slipper and the Rose, Dickens’ classic tale is given a sheen and a lift with the songs by Herbert W. Spencer and choreography from Ian Fraser & Paddy Stone.
At its centre is Albert Finney’s Scrooge, a grumbling, mumbling nasty piece of work, his pennypinching is conveyed with tiny rodent like movements and a fundemental aversion to acts of kindliness.
Though the dour atmosphere and glittering sparkle of the song and dance numbers may seem like an odd fit, they share a theatricality that joyously conveys both the light and the shadows of Dickens’ tale perfectly.
Plus you get an outrageously petulant and prickly Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley. He’s worth the price of admission on his own.
Bill Murray – Scrooged (1988)
Setting Murray’s character, Frank Cross, as an overworked, overzealous TV executive is a stroke of genius. The US TV landscape in the late ’80s was one of excess and greed, with just the right kind of unscrupulousness that transposes well onto the moral absence of Scrooge when his tale begins.
There’s some excellent work done by the wider cast, in particular Karen Allen, Carol Kane, Bobcat Goldthwait and Alfre Woodard, but the film belongs to Murray. It is excessive, at time very sad, and manages to use Murray’s obstinate and sarcastic comedy persona to its fullest effect.
Rowan Atkinson – Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (1988)
One of the most reliable staples of the small screen sphere is the Christmas special episode. Countless classic series have dressed up their sets with tinsel and fairy lights and shoehorned in a heartwarming message to varying effect. One of the greatest and certainly the funniest of the seasonal episodes is the 1988 Blackadder‘s Christmas Carol.
While he will be forever remembered as Mr Bean or Johnny English, it is in fact his role as Edmund Blackadder that may be Rowan Atkinson‘s finest creation. With the help of Richard Curtis and Ben Elton, Edmund Blackadder has made his way through the centuries concocting cunning plans, hitting the various incarnations of Baldrick, and generally trying to either get out of trouble or get into it.
The Christmas special which aired in 1988 revisits the three previous series to hilarious effect. It also has a wonderful reversal of the Ebeneezer Scrooge story as a suitably silly wrap around. Everyone of the Blackadder troupe are on top form but special notice must go to Miriam Margolyes and Jim Broadbent as Queen Victoria and Albert. Pitch perfect as the Monarch and her Regent, and who made us want an entire series set in the Victorian era.
Michael Caine – The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
It’s fair to say you’re not going to get too many Christmas film lists that do not contain one Muppet or another. And when we talking about adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Kermit and Co simply must be on your festive watch list.
One of the many pleasures in the Muppets TV and film work is their excellent casting of well-known actors to play the human roles. Michael Caine’s morose and ornery Scrooge has just the right amount of pantomime and playfulness to ensure that we follow him along all the way to curtain down.
With some beautiful set design, wonderful musical numbers and a charm and cheerfulness only The Muppets can bring, the Muppet Christmas Carol is a favourite watch for many. And Michael Caine’s irascible and cantankerous Ebeneezer Scrooge is just one of those reasons why.
Scrooge McDuck – Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
Burny Mattinson directed the Oscar-nominated short film, which was a rare big screen outings for Mickey. The film’s secret weapon is the prominence of the, up to this point, rarely used Scrooge McDuck as the main character.
Mickey is cast as Bob Cratchit and together they lead a host of Disney favourites through an abridged version of the classic Christmas story. The spluttering frustration of Scrooge McDuck contrasts well with the sweet-natured rectitude of Mickey’s Cratchit as the familiar tale unfolds.
Many adaptations base their success on how well they adapt, or vary from Dickens’ original text. Animating a bustling snowy London Town is no easy task, nor is furious slapstick an easy route to conveying the emotion of the book. Yet Disney stick close to the heart of the tale, and for the most part take it very seriously. There is something wonderful about an adaptation like this which compresses the story to a short running time, and makes great use of its familiar stable characters who never seem out of place.
Ebeneezer Scrooge will be redeemed at the hands of Jacob Marley and his three nocturnal ghosts for all eternity it seems. Such is the love of Dickens’ tale of redemption that we ourselves are bound to see it over and over again, in different media across the years. It is an ostensibly simple tale, yet it will be told until all of us feel the fullness of that warmth of spirit and that change of heart.