The Man Who Invented Christmas Presents Panicky Dickens

Movie Review: The Man Who Invented Christmas

Dan Stevens brings comic swagger and emotional complexity to the role of the famed writer on a losing streak, but Christopher Plummer is the Christmas pudding in this feast of holiday messages

The Man Who Invented Christmas


Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Justin Edwards, Miriam Margolyes

Directed by: Bharat Nalluri

Running time: 1hr 44 mins

Rating: Parental Guidance

By Katherine Monk

They fall into a well-wrapped package all their own: Christmas movies. Deeply felt messages about goodwill towards men and peace on earth unfurl every year around this time. And every year, we need them. We need to be reminded that love and kindness are real options, not just easy-stick slogans that peel off when things turn tribal.

Charles Dickens gave us that reminder in A Christmas Carol. His 1843 novel introduced the world to Ebenezer Scrooge and his overnight awakening, and is now repeated and recited on airwaves around the world as a sort of seasonal ritual, a secular door into the very heart of the Holy Spirit.

It’s a story so close to human truth, it is timeless. Yet, it’s so familiar that we’ve never stopped to ask what the world was like before A Christmas Carol, or how Dickens came to create his self-published masterpiece in a mere six weeks.

The Man Who Invented Christmas answers all of these questions by getting to the very heart of the matter: Charles Dickens, the man. More specifically, a man who needed to learn a few lessons of his own about exercising generosity in the real world.

We meet Dickens just after his early wave of fame crested with The Old Curiosity Shop, after Oliver Twist and Pickwick Papers made him a publishing power house. However, his last three books, Barnaby Rudge, Martin Chuzzlewit and Dombey and Son have tanked. He needs a hit. Badly.

Like all Victorian characters, he’s got money issues. Having raced into the privileged class, Dickens was eager to enjoy a lavish lifestyle and furnish his growing family with all the luxuries his fame should afford. Yet, he never planned for flops and celebrity alone can’t pay the bills.

The Man Who Invented Christmas answers all of these questions by getting to the very heart of the matter: Charles Dickens, the man. More specifically, a man who needed to learn a few lessons of his own about exercising generosity in the real world.

Using Les Standiford’s 2008 book: The Man Who Invented Christmas How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits, screenwriter Susan Coyne (Slings and Arrows) sets up the recurring theme, and the soot-covered soul of the story in the opening scene: A filthy street urchin stands before a grimy clapboard bootblack factory in the streets of London. His sad eyes look upward without hope.

Fast-forward a few decades, and we’re watching the fully grown Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) grappling with his mounting debts and critical humiliation. He decides the only way out is to publish a little Christmas book, and before doubt seizes him completely, he commits to writing an entire novel in under six weeks.

Once Coyne and director Bharat Nalluri get the set-up out of the way, they can have fun with the rest of the yarn, spinning it in all directions as Dickens seeks inspiration to fill the blank page.

The design is mechanical as it mirrors elements of A Christmas Carol, moving backward and forward in time, rubbing more carbon onto the fixed points of transformation, showing us the stages of personal growth.

The content has deep dark tones, but the texture of each scene is quite light. The script is drenched in humour phrased for contemporary audiences used to seeing a struggling creative type, and Dan Stevens turns Dickens into a cross between Amadeus and Shakespeare.

Stevens is having fun, but Christopher Plummer is having more. As the imaginary Scrooge, he becomes the haunting voice of Dickens’s own conscience as he finds himself saying and doing terrible things.

Plummer’s macabre presence makes every scene darker, yet his professional polish sparkles — reflecting lightness in every moment. It’s a beautiful balance, and it makes the movie feel a little more special than your average feel-good fruit cake.

Yes. It’s sweet — and some scenes feel a little too obvious: “What to call him? Screech? Scrunge? Scurge?…” Yet the movie never feels pat or condescending or preachy. It pulls back before it falls into the caramelized sugar, and is remarkable for its minimal use of special effects.

The movie was shot on real sets (borrowed from the Penny Dreadful TV series) and used in-camera tricks for the spirits. The movie, its message and the medium are on the same analog page, which gives this 21st century film a nugget of truth that may be coated in some Victorian candy — but never gets stale, and always tastes like Christmas.


THE EX-PRESSS, November 25, 2017


Review: The Man Who Invented Christmas

User Rating

3.8 (6 Votes)



Christopher Plummer is the plum pudding in this darkly comic biopic that chronicles Charles Dickens's creation of A Christmas Carol. Dan Stevens plays the famed writer struggling with a string of failures and a need for cash, as well as a meddling father (Jonathan Pryce). Because screenwriter Susan Coyne creates a character with recognizable celebrity problems, the Victorian tale finds freshness in the same breath as it recreates a fetid old London. The perfect preparation for the holidays, The Man Who Invented Christmas reminds us of the transformative power, and pure joy, of giving love. -- Katherine Monk

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