If Charles Dickens taught us anything, it's that Christmas is a time for rebirth and the spreading of joy. It's too bad, then, that the new film about his most famous piece of work, "A Christmas Carol," is a sluggish retelling of a story we all know that is strife for a different take. The Man Who Invented Christmas is the opposite of rebirth and there is no joy to spread. Just a stale tale.
Dickens (played by Dan Stevens, who lit up Beauty and the Beast) is coming off a pair of flops after his highly successful Oliver Twist novel, a soul ripe for a fresh tale. When he overhears one of his maids telling his children about a ghostly character who comes around Christmas, he gets a wicked idea for his next novel. And the rest is history.
The largest problem I had with The Man Who Invented Christmas is that it told me nothing new about Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge and one of the most famous books of all time. It's a dark, slow-moving and ultimately flat take on a popular landmark in literary history. The promise that its trailer gave was that this would be a light and fun adventure. The resulting film is anything but fun, because it doesn't know if it wants to uplift or just flip through the pages of a book on screen.
Director Bharat Nalluri likes to jump around genres in film (his last film was 2016's MI:5) while doing a fair amount of television. His work here doesn't produce any life in the old material. It would have been different if he aimed for a musical take on the tale or aimed for the comedic aspects of Dickens' journey towards creation, but instead he just settles for a cinematic field goal instead of going for broke. Susan Coyne's script isn't bad, but doesn't create much juice for the actors to work with.
Stevens was a sight to see in Beauty and the Beast, and here, he tries to put something extra into Dickens. There's just not much to work with. The author was a famous recluse who tortured himself and his family over his work, a way of life that was stricken upon him through a tough childhood. The actor goes through the motions.
Christopher Plummer is a phenomenal actor, but even he doesn't have much else to show us with Scrooge. The man has an Oscar on his mantle but spins in circles here. Jonathan Pryce puts in good work as the imperfect father who clings to Charles, but the two don't get enough time to create a real relationship.
I understand the need to try and tell this story again, but I would have preferred a different method or flavor to the classic tale. Look at what Robert Zemeckis did with Jim Carrey's A Christmas Carol or what Ralph Fiennes' The Invisible Woman, which showed a different side of the author. Those movies took a familiar story and produced something fresh with it by going a different route.
The Man Who Invented Christmas doesn't really invent much new about the tale. Take this year's Beauty and the Beast for example. By going with a live-action, fully rediscovered landscape, Bill Condon made the tale seem like a brand new story. Nalluri settles for the familiar period piece, and the result is a perfunctory film.
If I were you, I'd watch Zemeckis' version instead. At least that had some life to it.