This gem of a biopic didn’t deserve to be lumped into the “Christmas” film territory despite its title.
It was a real shame that The Man Who Invented Christmas was lumped in as a Christmas story. There, I’ve said it. I’ve said it in the excerpt of this piece and I’ve said it here right off the bat. It’s a real shame because this film didn’t deserve that sort of publicity or billing. It deserved to be exactly what it is: a biopic about the creation of one of the greatest literary feats of our time. Yes, it just so happens to be A Christmas Carol but still. There was nothing, and I do mean, nothing Christmas-y about this film except for an unneeded tagline at the end that stated what everyone who hasn’t lived under a rock for their entire life already knows. A Christmas Carol was an automatic hit, and it has become a seminal part of culture every Christmas since 1843.
However, not everything was sunshine and roses for Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens), especially as he set out to write the novel, get it illustrated, and funded in less than six weeks. All of this comes at a particularly troubling time for Dickens. He’s in debt because he’s had three flops all in a row. He has a new baby on the way. He has loans he has to pay back. His father, John (Jonathan Pryce), is a thorn in his side and the most frivolous when it comes to money and money decisions. It’s this little nugget of information that drives Charles which the audience sees through flashbacks and his increasingly erratic behavior as the film barrels to the final moment.
In true “Christmas story” fashion, there is, of course, a happy ending. You know, the “peace on Earth and goodwill to all” type of ending which sadly overshadows the true bread and butter of this film. While The Man Who Invented Christmas is meant to focus on how Dickens created his beloved novel, where it really excels is the exploration of Dickens’ psychological state and how each of these stressors affects him as he creates A Christmas Carol. Let me tell you something, I was not expecting to see something so dark and so interesting in a “Christmas” film. This is mostly why I don’t think it’s correct to bill this film as a Christmas film; it is a disservice to the mental and psychological journey Dickens goes through and, in return, it is a disservice to the mental and psychological journey the Dickens family goes through as a result of Charles’ mental health issues.
As always, Stevens excels at giving the audience an incredibly nuanced performance. To say that he carries this film on his own would be an accurate statement. There are other actors in the movie and he is very rarely alone on the screen but no one delivers a performance like his as Dickens. No offense to Christopher Plummer (who plays Ebenezer Scrooge) but no one comes close to Stevens in the film. No one. He overshadows everyone to a level of heartbreaking intensity that I wasn’t expecting. A lot of it comes from the fact that I had no idea of the tumultuous life Dickens had. His father was thrown into debtors prison when Dickens was no more than nine-years-old, and Dickens had to work in a workhouse where he was abused and degraded. These are the events that make his relationship with his father so obviously fractured when John shows up out of the blue. John’s appearance (with a raven that destroys a pricey Italian chandelier in the dining room) is really the catalyst for all the drama that happens in the last third of the film. Stevens’ performance will haunt you and make you cry in the film’s climax, I’m warning you right now. So, be prepared to have tissues handy.
Other than Stevens’ acting, this film is really pretty. It’s appropriately dark and moody and I think it really shows what London was like when Dickens was at the top of his game. The cinematography is fantastic. There are a lot of good shots in the film. A few of them are of Stevens’ eyes but as a friend of mine said, “Any smart director knows to dress Stevens in blue and to focus on his eyes”. Mostly it’s because they’re so darn expressive. But, other than that, the film was just pretty and it was nice being able to escape into the world Bharat Nalluri created for an hour and a half.
I really recommend this film. In fact, I couldn’t recommend it enough. I think it’s a film that everyone needs to see at least once. It’s really that good and you don’t even need a good appreciation of either Dickens or Stevens to know it’s a master class of biopics that need to be replicated from now on.
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