As we step closer to Christmas cinemas are once again filled with new and classic festive films, The Man Who Invented Christmas is one of the former. Based on Les Standiford’s nonfiction book of the same name, The Man Who Invented Christmas explores Charles Dickens’ (Dan Stevens) struggle with writer’s block and his tumultuous relationship with his father (Jonathon Pryce) to create A Christmas Carol before December 25. In the wake of three failures, and amidst a rising amount of debt, Dickens sets out to write and self-publish this Christmas classic in six high-intensity weeks, gaining inspiration from the world around him, his personal relationships, and his vivid imagination to revive his career and save the Christmas holiday.
However, it’s important to note that despite what the film and its overtly arrogant title want you to believe, Dickens shouldn’t be celebrated as the inventor of this festive holiday—in fact, he wasn’t even the sole reason Christmas was revived. At the time of A Christmas Carol’s release Britain was exploring new traditions related to the holiday like carols and Christmas trees. Dickens reflected this new spirit in his writing and reinforced the holiday’s focus on compassion and family through the popularisation of elements now considered integral to celebrating Christmas—such as family gatherings and seasonal food.
Don’t get me wrong. A Christmas Carol was extremely successful—it sold out by Christmas Eve in 1943 after only being published a week prior. More than two million copies have been published since the novella’s first edition, and numerous stage and film adaptions have been made—its success is such that A Christmas Carol and Scrooge are now house-hold names. But Dickens is rather the man who re-invented Christmas, not the one who invented it.The film is somewhat clumsily put together, with semi-developed characters and sub-plots tossed to the way-side, like a child discarding toys for shinier alternatives. The character Kate Dickens (Morfydd Clark) was less than two-dimensional, it seemed that her only purpose was to inform viewers of a baby on the way and attempt to demonstrate the emotional toll Dickens’ stress placed on his family.
As the film progresses Dickens gradually begins to reflect the characters in his Carol, evolving into the shut-off and bitter Scrooge he was creating. Dickens becomes consumed by the stress of reaching the unmovable Christmas deadline and attempts to isolate himself from his well-intentioned yet distracting family, all of which results in a wonderful performance by Dan Stevens. The microscopic sub-plot of Dickens’ loyal friend John Forster (Justin Edwards) and his failed engagement is thrown in for seemingly no reason other than to emphasise Dickens increasing Scrooge-like traits through his inability to listen to the qualms of others. This no-plot sub-plot resurfaces at the end of the film, even though I had forgotten it was a relevant issue by this point.Dickens’ troubled relationship with his father, who forced a twelve-year-old Dickens to become the family’s sole provider when he landed himself in a debtor’s prison, is a central focus of the film and one of my favourite aspects. The tragic nature of Dickens’ childhood is touched upon and forms the basis for Dickens’ inability to let his father into his life. Forgiveness becomes an obstacle for Dickens and an essential theme in the film as grudges and conflicts are put aside for Christmas. In my view, the celebration of one another is one of the most important Christmas elements that Dickens helped establish, and is emphasised in the final moments of the film to ramp up a feeling of Christmas cheer.
The construction of writers’ block is also a significant component of the film, with the characters of A Christmas Carol materialising and giving critiquing Dickens’ work to help him overcome his mental blanks and reach his deadline. Although demonstrating Dickens’ struggle to complete A Christmas Carols is essential in telling the story of its creation, the about-to-put-pen-to-paper-but-then-interrupted cliché is a tad overused—so much so that the audience began to get a little restless.
Despite its shortcomings The Man Who Invented Christmas makes for a light-hearted Christmas flick that could be missed, but will undoubtedly get you in the Christmas spirit if you decide to give it a chance.In the theme of Christmas giving Luna Cinemas have teamed up with the Salvation Army by placing donation boxes at Cinema Paradiso and Luna on SX for unwrapped gifts until December 22 which will be sent to struggling families.
The Man Who Invented Christmas is screening at Cinema Paradiso and Luna on SX now.