Released: 1st December 2017
Directed By: Bharat Nalluri
Starring: Dan Stevens
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Dickens! Christmas! They go together like lamb and tuna fish, to quote Rob Schneider. Yet, The Man Who Invented Christmas attempts something more admirable than the usual festive spin on the Dickensian wheel, attempting to yield the author’s most iconic work into what’s fast becoming a staple of 2017: the author biopic. Sure enough, there’s the promise of fertile enough ground within the concept for something of an instant classic to be born, however, former BBC director Bharat Nalluri instead delivers something far more akin to his roots instead – namely, a BBC Christmas special.
Having kicked off the year in what may well turn out to be one of the year’s biggest smashes, Dan Stevens takes his swing at Dickens in a story that sees the author reeling from three literary flops in a row and desperate to solve his financial woes as the holiday season approaches. It’s then that the foppish Charlie happens upon the idea for a new novel, one set at Christmas and dealing with the redemption of a miserly figure named Scrooge, one that he’ll have to dream up and get published in only six weeks if he wants to beat the festivities to the punch.
To Stevens’ credit, he goes full steam ahead for the notion of Dickens as a bit of a misunderstood literary scallywag, a novel enough approach that indeed keeps his head above the somewhat choppier waters drowning the film elsewhere. It’s largely a treading water exercise for the rest of the cast, with the like of Ian McNeice and Christopher Plummer adding nothing new to the tale beyond having simply not starred in their own versions of A Christmas Carol previously, and little for anyone to really sink their teeth into, bar possibly comedian Miles Jupp – who enjoys a fleetingly amusing role as the resident societal sneerer.
The damp and lifeless televisual feeling of The Man Who Invented Christmas can’t even particularly be laid at the feet of Nalluri, to be fair, his direction struggling endlessly to inject the vim and vigour of, say, Zemeckis’ animated Christmas Carol of a few years back, yet hindered inexorably by the lumbering weight that is Susan Coyne’s unendingly cumbersome screenplay. A boreish todge of what’s fast becoming a templated subgenre, Coyne’s work skirts by time and time again on the now age-old technique of bystander characters throwing out what will become iconic lines of the relevant text, and general nobodies just happening to share names with iconic future characters.
On an academic level, it’s about on par with an episode of Enterprise, but, as a work in cinema, it’s largely just dull. Stevens swings admirably enough for the fences where possible, but even his own sense of restraint feels too in keeping with the paint-by-numbers televisual exercise The Man Who Invented Christmas ultimately resigns itself to being. Bah, humbug.