First off, let me say I yield to no one in my admiration of Charles Dickens and affection for A Christmas Carol. Dickens was one of the greatest writers in the English language, and his tale of Ebenezer Scrooge is one of his masterpieces, beloved by billions since its appearance in 1843. So let no one accuse me of a lack of holiday spirit when I say that The Man Who Invented Christmas, which claims to tell the story of how Dickens (Dan Stevens) came to write A Christmas Carol, is a lousy movie, going perversely out of its way to strike one false note after another from first frame to last.
The movie’s first few minutes offer several cases in point. It opens on a stop in Dickens’ 1842 American lecture tour, which the movie presents as a sort of 19th century version of a rock concert in a sports arena—the audience clapping and stomping for the show to start, the author taking the stage to the flashing of lights and the boom of confetti cannons, with chorus girls and boys dancing to George M. Cohan’s “The Yankee Doodle Boy.” (Note to writer Susan Coyne: Mr. Cohan will not be born for another 36 years, and he won’t brag about being a Yankee Doodle Dandy until 1904.)
A few more notes for Ms. Coyne. In 1843, a Victorian gentleman like Dickens’ friend John Forster (Justin Edwards) would have cut his tongue out before he’d say the word “bloody” four times in one sentence. The dining room of the Garrick Club (then as now one of the most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs in London) probably never sounded like an airport Burger King, and surely Dickens never griped about the food, the prices or the service. Also, while Dickens did publish some unsuccessful books leading up to the Carol, nobody ever called them “flops”—the use of “flop” in the sense of “failure” didn’t enter English until Dickens had been dead for 20 years.
Meanwhile, a couple of pointers for Bharat Nalluri, this movie’s hapless director: an Englishman, certainly in Dickens’ day, would pronounce the word “clerk” as “clark,” and would say “fin-ances,” not “fye-nances.”
Things never improve, not even with Paki Smith’s sumptuous Victorian sets or Christopher Plummer as the shade of Scrooge haunting Dickens’ study, prodding him to write his story.
But enough beating up on this poor tin-eared movie. If you want to get in the holiday spirit, you’d do better to take in the Great Dickens Christmas Fair at the Cow Palace in Daly City. Closer to home, there are any number of Christmas Carol movies, starting with the peerless 1951 Alastair Sim version. If we have to resort to The Man Who Invented Christmas to put us in the mood … well, I can only misquote Tiny Tim: God help us, every one.