The cheeriest movie about writers’ block that you’ll ever see, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” reminds us that even the famously prolific Charles Dickens had trouble with deadlines. 3 out of 4 stars.
The cheeriest movie about writers’ block that you’ll ever see, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” reminds us that even the famously prolific Charles Dickens had trouble with deadlines; news that should lighten the spirits of all writers. (I am, for the record, writing this review ahead of deadline, which is something of a holiday miracle.) Directed by Bharat Nalluri, whose 2008 film “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” is an underseen pleasure, it’s a pleasant Christmas-season offering; both mild (read: family-friendly) and sweet.
Dan Stevens (the lamented Cousin Matthew of “Downton Abbey”), agreeably chewing the scenery like it’s a particularly tough bit of plum pudding, plays Dickens, a man at a crossroads in 1843: Though internationally famous at the age of 31, he’s had a string of novels that flopped, a growing family to support, and a London town house in the throes of very expensive refurbishment. Suddenly, staring into the abyss of a blank page, he has an inspiration: A book about Christmas! His publishers hate the idea (“People don’t like to see the poor in books,” he’s reminded) and so Dickens sets out, frantically, to write and self-publish the book in six weeks, desperate to finish it by mid-December. For a title, he suggests “Humbug: A Miser’s Lament”; the world now knows it as “A Christmas Carol.”
Despite its title (borrowed from the nonfiction book by Les Standiford, on which the movie is based), the movie doesn’t really make a case for Dickens having “invented” Christmas, nor does it tell us much about how the book changed the holiday. It does, however, offer a stockingful of treats: Stevens’ delightfully theatrical Dickens, who writes while wandering around the room talking to himself; Christopher Plummer as the cantankerous, fictional Scrooge, who enters Dickens’ study and tries to control the story; the depiction of Dickens’ rival Thackeray (a wonderfully smarmy Miles Jupp) as the sort of twit who must be avoided at parties; and Leonie Prendergast’s colorful soufflé of Victorian costumes. (This Dickens has a weakness for a showy cravat.)
Movie Review ★★★
‘The Man Who Invented Christmas,’ with Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Justin Edwards, Morfydd Clark, Donald Sumpter, Miles Jupp, Simon Callow. Directed by Bharat Nalluri, from a screenplay by Susan Coyne, based on the book by Les Standiford. 104 minutes. Rated PG for thematic elements and some mild language. Several theaters.
There’s a fundamental kindness to the film that’s welcome, particularly a timely, lingering final thought: “Christmas,” muses Dickens, “is about hope that, in the end, our better natures will prevail.”
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