“When happiness shows up, always give it a comfortable seat…”
I’m pretty sure that I read somewhere that Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol is the most adapted literary work ever. Because I seem to have become fatigued beneath a mountain of mince pies and Christmas cards, I am unfortunately unable to verify this but let us presume it is true. What keeps filmmakers coming back to the seminal morality tale? There are numerous reasons but one of them is its simplicity. This 1999 adaptation is the closest to the book that I have seen yet. Alas, it is also the most straight faced and therefore least enjoyable.
This film struggles under the weight of familiarity. As my wife astutely noted, this version is very similar to a Muppet Christmas Carol except it has no muppets in it. Nothing gets past her. Joking aside though, that sentiment does ring true. We have all heard this story told a thousand times, a thousand different ways. What does this version have to say that is fresh or worthwhile? The answer, sadly, is not very much. Aside from a predictably impressive take on Ebenezer Scrooge by Patrick Stewart, this could be any old adaptation. It must be noted that Stewart is excellent but is that enough? He excels both at portraying Scrooge as an old skinflint with his hand to the grindstone as well as the slightly mad but warmhearted old gentlemen who emerges from his chrysalis like a beautiful, bald butterfly at the films conclusion. Indeed, the scenes following Scrooge’s redemption are where Stewart does his best work.
This isn’t a bad adaptation by any means but its reluctance to stray from the source material does stifle it somewhat and while the book always has a glint in its eye, this film version perhaps takes itself a little too seriously. Another black mark is the rendering of Tiny Tim, a character I have always found irritating, as a kind of Oliver Twist style street urchin. Actor Ben Tibber only appeared in two more films during his short career, one of them being yet another adaptation of A Christmas Carol in which he plays a different incarnation of Tiny Tim, this time in a modern version alongside Ross Kemp or ‘Eddie Scrooge’ as he is known in that film. Sounds deliciously terrible. Possibly one for next year…
Well it has been another turbulent year for Christmas films. Classic animation has rubbed shoulders with cheesy horror, a foreign curio has tutted loudly across the dinner table at one of the worst films ever made and Martin Freeman still looks confused. God knows what next year has in store.
Still, for now, all that is left to say is Merry Christmas, one and all!