Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce
Directed by: Bharat Nalluri (“Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day”)
Written by: Susan Coyne (debut)
I have this thing about properly delineating the end of the year holidays that I’ve seen challenged more and more over the years. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t want to see Christmas decorations before “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” has had its annual TV airing, and would prefer to spend the month of November awash in the browns and orange of fall and cornucopias and Thanksgiving dinner, but no—I know too many monsters who put up Christmas decorations the day after Halloween, egged on by retailers who can’t wait to sell you red and green M&Ms even when it makes no goddamn sense. Needless to say, I’m not necessarily in the right frame of mind to really enjoy a frothy eggnog of a Christmas movie before I’ve managed to replace my blood with turkey gravy, but I’ll be damned if “The Man Who Invented Christmas” didn’t win me over—which the lion’s share of the credit goes to Dan Stevens, who is quickly becoming one of the most valuable British imports since Harry Potter.
Set in October 1843, Stevens stars as Charles Dickens, down on his luck after a series of flop novels and in serious debt thanks to an ongoing home renovation and an ever-growing litter of children with wife Kate (Morfydd Clark). Suffering from writer’s block, Dickens is suddenly inspired to write a Christmas tale after overhearing nanny Tara (Anna Murphy) recounting an old Irish Christmas tale to the Dickens children—only thing is, Christmas at that time wasn’t a big deal, so the publisher balks at rushing production of the book. Believing in the idea anyway, Dickens decides to self-publish and takes out a too-large loan, but he still can’t get over his writer’s block. Slowly but surely, he pulls inspiration from people in real life—a skeletal waiter named Marley, his own crippled nephew—to fill out his story, but it isn’t until the character of Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) comes to life to antagonize him as a vision does Dickens’ sense of the story that would become “A Christmas Carol” truly begin to take shape.
Stevens, here again wrestling visions with a skeptical twinkle in his eye as in TV’s brilliantly trippy X-Men adjacent show “Legion,” makes for a delightfully downtrodden Dickens, running from both his own failures and those foisted upon him by his kindly but spendthrift father John (Jonathan Pryce) that put him in a debtor’s prison and young Charles in a sweatshop years ago. And Plummer makes a wonderfully devious Scrooge, inheriting a role all elderly British actors end up with at one point or another, only this time with the extra layer of interacting with and “bah, humbug”-ing his creator. While probably not exactly true to Dickens’ actual writing process, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” ends up as a nice, sugary yuletide treat served in the form of a mild twist on a story we all know by heart, like a salted caramel cookie or hot chocolate with a hint of cinnamon.