Though initially purporting to be a biopic of the legendary wordsmith Charles Dickens, this playful Bharat Nalluri production is effectively telling the story of one of the author’s most famous novels; A Christmas Carol, through his very own imagination. In some ways this is a study of the creative process, and it’s interesting to see what Dickens absorbs as he crafts this familiar tale. You could say it’s similar to mother! in that regard, but that would be a lie. This really isn’t anything like mother! at all.
Dan Stevens plays Dickens, fresh off the back of a tour of America following the success of Oliver Twist, only to follow it up with three flops. His best friend and sort-of-manager John Forster (Justin Edwards) is striving to get him a new deal with the publishers for another novel – but writer’s block is making that somewhat difficult to achieve. But Dickens, and his wife Kate (Morfydd Clark) need the money, particularly with the former’s father (Jonathan Pryce) coming to London to stay a while. So Dickens agrees he’ll have a new book published in time for Christmas – now all he needs is a good story and a good character to lead it. And then he starts to imagine this grey and old, grumpy and disagreeable man (Christopher Plummer) and realises he may well have his Scrooge, and with that in place the rest should follow, though time is working against him as the countdown to Christmas begins.
As the film begins it’s easy to feel somewhat cold towards it. The way Dickens comes up with ideas for his novel is immensely contrived, as he walks around the room trying to think of a name for Scrooge, working his way through Scrimper, Scrat, and whatever else comes into his head. He’d see a small, seemingly innocuous thing occur like a poorly child o the street and he’d rush home, full of new ideas (“I have my Tiny Tim!”). But then it becomes apparent this feature is not taking itself seriously at all, complete with a light, congenial tone which, when established, gives Nalluri the licence to be over the top and have no obligation whatsoever to the notion of realism, and this lets the feature off the hook in several instances, and lets it run free.
With this approach in mind, the characters feel gloriously overstated, many of which akin to the likes of those who would inhabit the pages of Dickens’ work. There are many, albeit unsubtle, narrative parallels with A Christmas Carol too, in how Dickens himself may have to confront the demons of his past, or how this man he keeps imagining in his head, that of Ebeneza Scrooge, could represent what he’s to become, as though a warning of what sort of man he could turn into unless he starts adding more compassion and decency into his life, as the author goes on a rather similar journey to that of the very protagonist he’s in the process of creating.
So while undoubtedly flawed, The Man Who Invited Christmas cannot be accused of being dour, it’s an irreverent, festive endeavour that thrives in being over the top and unashamedly entertaining. In that regard, you’d put a wager on Charles Dickens quite liking this movie if he had seen it. I mean, he’d probably sit there saying it’s all completely absurd and is pretty much all fabricated nonsense, but it’s intelligent, enjoyable storytelling, and he was rather fond of that.
The Man Who Invented Christmas is released on December the 1st.