The Man Who Invented Christmas

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This is (spoiler alert!) about how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol, Yes, we kind of watched it out of season. We were inspired to put it in the Netflix queue by watching the trailer for it on a different DVD. Fortuitous!

The premise is that Dickens is going through a rough patch. His early stuff, especially Oliver Twist, gave him fame and fortune. But after a string of relative duds, he's still got the fame, but the fortune has gone a-glimmering. (The movie lists Martin Chuzzlewit as one of the duds, but if I'm reading the bibliography correctly, that book was actually published after A Christmas Carol.)

Dickens needs to come up with a hit, fast. With Christmas on the horizon, what could be more natural? Inspired by a sparsely-attended funeral for a rich guy, various and sundry colorful characters from the London streets, he sets to work. His creative process involves summoning up his characters into his writing room. Most notably, Scrooge, who is given life when Dickens comes up with his name.

In addition to financial pressures, Dickens' domestic life is full of turmoil. Mom and Dad show up, uninvited; his Dad is revealed to be kind of a starry-eyed deadbeat. (Flashbacks show him going off to debtor's prison when Charles was but a lad. Traumatic!)

A certain amount of dramatic tension is unavailable to us because we know how things turn out. We know A Christmas Carol was a huge hit, so getting us to worry otherwise is futile. Dickens toys with killing off Tiny Tim in the book, but we know he doesn't. And so on.

The acting is first-rate. Matthew Crawley himself, Dan Stevens, plays Dickens convincingly. But Christopher Plummer as the Dickens-imagined Scrooge is priceless, and occasionally hilarious.

Like the book A Christmas Carol, the movie The Man Who Invented Christmas is entirely Baby Jesus-free, other than in the title. I'm not a good enough Christian to complain overmuch about that, but it's something other people have noticed.