The Man Who Invented Chritmas
Brandon Richardson | 19/11/2017
The genre of biopic Christmas dramas is one that is largely unpopulated (probably for good reason). Yet, Bharat Nalluri’s The Man Who Invented Christmas shows us that this seldom-explored bay may harbour some satisfying stories.
The Man Who Invented Christmas centres on Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens), struggling to recapture the wild success of his acclaimed novel Oliver Twist, and suffering from an acute case of writer’s block. With funds spreading thin, the pressure for a new success mounts, particularly as Dickens’ generous nature makes it difficult to admit hardship to those around him. A few chance encounters with overtly cold and scrupulous businessmen gives him the inspiration for a new story about the cons of an unfettered obsession with the material. To the dismay of his publishers, he is adamant to market this new novel as a Christmas story, despite the fact that celebration of the holiday has reached a relative low as the British begin to reconsider their holiday traditions against the traditions of wider Europe. Taking the brave step to publish the book on his own pocket in time for Christmas over a few weeks away, Dickens immerses himself the creative process of the novella, visualising interactions with the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer). Descending ever further into the world of A Christmas Carol, Dickens struggles with a story and characters that are all too reflective of his own life.
Of all of Dickens’ written works, perhaps none have stood the test of time as much as A Christmas Carol, which every year sees resurgence in popularity. Its poignant messages on generosity and the value of family are packaged in an easily digestible and relatable manner. It is for these reasons that the novella has become one of the most regularly adapted pieces of literature in history and, indeed, worthy of an origin story. However, any film that focuses on a visual depiction of a literary creation faces one major challenge: how can the process of story writing be made interesting? The Man Who Invented Christmas draws on Dickens’ known self-absorption and inflection to bring his characters to life through visualisations of the characters as real people. By interacting with his visions, he explores Scrooge’s personality and attempts to understand the motivations that drive him to be such a, for want of a better word, Scrooge. This serves as a more or less entertaining device to appreciate the creative process, and although it is somewhat off-putting to see Dickens frequently neglect his family in favour of his hallucinations, it serves as an entertaining way to explore his highly involved creative process.
Set against the masterfully-created backdrop of Victorian-era London, Nalluri explores the hidden inspirations of Dickens’ stories, separating this film from other iterations of A Christmas Carol. We are introduced to Charles’ father John (Jonathan Pryce), as a gentleman virtually incapable of living within his means. His exuberant spending landed him in debtors jail when Charles was only 12, leaving Charles to work in a shoe blacking factory, which is all factually correct. We progressively begin to understand that Scrooge is borne of Charles’ resentment for his father’s lack of fiscal responsibility. Dan Stevens does a remarkable job of portraying the turmoil of a man torn by this resentment to a man that he loves dearly. Despite such a dramatic conflict, the festive feel of a Christmas film is adequately maintained through a jovial performance from Stevens coupled with excellent set and costume design. Although not managing to excel in either the biographic drama or Christmas genres, Nalluri provides us with a satisfying blend of the two.
Those looking for an alternative to the often underwhelming market of Christmas comedy to receive their festive fix will be pleasantly surprised by The Man Who Invented Christmas.