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The Man Who Invented Christmas – Movie Review

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The Man Who Invented Christmas – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

Examining the writing process is something that demands invention on film. One can almost imagine the screenwriter circling in their office, trying to figure out the proper way to convey that very notion of coming up with creative ideas. The Man Who Invented Christmas handles that task with cheeky and self-aware winking to the audience that gives the right amount of holiday charm. Any biopic that throws out the tired series of events common in the genre and plays with convention is welcome. Despite one subplot not adding much to the storyline, this plays as a clever look into Charles Dickens’s imaginative mind, even with the flights of fancy and obvious artistic license.

For anyone who has read A Christmas Carol or seen the gazillion adaptations with Mickey and Muppets and Dogs Who Go to Heaven, the references scattered throughout Susan Coyne’s screenplay will be obvious to anyone. Yet that’s oddly a part of the charm as if Dickens somehow knows his little story about a cranky miser would resonate for so long. That cheekiness is evident right from the opening title card and there seems to be an attempt to appeal to the lovers of classic literature in the audience. Dan Stevens adds further energy with his charming performance as Dickens, yet also showing his more vulnerable side as he struggles with writing this story in a few weeks time.

A great amount of humour is gained out of Dickens’s interactions with his characters. Christopher Plummer could honestly play Ebenezer Scrooge in a legitimate production of A Christmas Carol as he is clearly enjoying playing this role performed by so many actors before him. The best scenes in The Man Who Invented Christmas tend to involve the interactions between Dickens and Scrooge. True to character, Scrooge tries to impose his own ideas on Dickens and it’s hilarious. We also see a genuine bond between Dickens and his wife, children and manager, even as the frustrations grow bigger. Meanwhile, newcomer Anna Murphy gives a lovely performance as the house maid who provides further inspiration for Dickens.

The Man Who Invented Christmas isn’t entirely mistletoe and gumdrops as the film does detail Dickens’s time in a worker’s house to give context for his sympathy towards the poor. These are necessary elements, but the sequences with his absentee father feel out-of-place. It’s difficult to utilise this plot point unless you’re Steven Spielberg, but it doesn’t add a whole lot to the story here. The point is to obviously add another distraction and obstacle for Dickens, but is the only part where the script ventures too far into Christmas schmaltziness. The film also brushes aside Dickens’s real-life annoyance at his mother, but that only would have doubled the angst in a story meant to be a crowd-pleaser.

This is made to be gooey and sweet-natured and it succeeds at that goal. Most pleasingly, The Man Who Invented Christmas doesn’t feel the need to use boring biopic clichés that have become exhaustive at this point. Historical liberties are obviously being taken, but that’s fine with the story the filmmakers seek to tell. After multiple different interpretations of A Christmas Carol produced over the years, it’s fun to see a version that shows Dickens coming up with the story. It’s rather clever how this film even uses the familiar story beats of that tale, but in a tasteful way that respects the real people in Dickens’s life. There’s little to say “humbug” to here.


Stefan Ellison