Thoughts On: “The Man Who Invented Christmas”

Hi, everyone!

Whew, what a year I’ve been having! But more on that in a post I’ll put up just before the new year…

Anyway, without further ado, last Sunday, December 17, I saw a film that inspired me to pen another installment in my series on holiday/Christmas/winter movies and specials.

What film was so special that it woke me out of my writing reverie (in terms of this blog, anyway)?

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)!

I do not own any of the following images or videos!

Here’s the trailer:

No, Mr. Dickens, I wasn’t trying to read over your shoulder! Don’t mind me!

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
Plot: Charles Dickens, after a rush of inspiration, tussles with writer’s block, deadlines, and personal struggles as he strives to crack his latest work… A Christmas Carol.

There have been nigh countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol, from film, to TV, to stage––– from verbatim, to musical, to modernized, to gender-flipped––– from live action, to animation, to The Muppets! If you like A Christmas Carol at all, you have your favorite version or versions. You have your favorite ghost, your favorite scenes, your favorite lines… this story touches the hearts and souls of so many. Some may say such nearly-universal appeal cheapens it: I say, it enriches it. How special to be able to take a singular story about one person’s extremely personal journey and make it accessible and even relatable to so many.

Full disclosure: I’ve loved A Christmas Carol and so many of its adaptations for as long as I can remember. In fact, my very first acting role was as The Ghost of Christmas Present (my favorite ghost in the story)! Even though I was twelve at the time, I still remember so many of my lines, and would love to be involved in another adaptation of the tale someday.

Since The Man Who Invented Christmas is still in theaters as of this writing, and I do highly recommend it, I’ll do my best to avoid any spoilers of surprise moments. However, everyone has different definitions of what counts as a “spoiler,” so I shall still include my traditional warning…

Spoilers lurk beyond this point!

Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) starts out at the highest of highs: not just a success with his latest hit novel, but on a grand tour of readings, parties, galas, and celebrations of all sorts to celebrate not just his novel, but him.

If you’ve ever wondered, “Do writers really talk to their characters like in these movies, TV shows, etc.?”, well, the answer is… yes.

And we summon them by saying their names aloud. Doesn’t everyone?

… Kind of. I can’t speak for all creative people, but when I create, it often helps to imagine my characters outside the strict context in which they’re being written. Put them in conversation with each other, but in a different setting; imagine them at their breaking point where they snap and spill their deepest, darkest hopes, dreams, secrets, and fears; and, perhaps, imagine what they would say to you. This works with both writing and performing.

Some characters burst in almost fully formed, and have no time for such idle chitchat as they take the story by storm and write themselves. Others don’t open up so easily; you have to pry at them, grill them, examine them––– even coming up with their names can be a challenge––– until their true colors come through.

… And some just won’t leave you alone.

As a writer (and actor, singer, director, etc.), following an artist through the creation process, when done well, resonates with me. It is done quite well here. And as someone who loves A Christmas Carol, I won’t lie: it’s really fun to see the characters we’ve seen so many times in a very different context. Yes, Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) says, “Bah! Humbug,” and many other familiar phrases: even his speech about what he believes should happen to “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips.” However, the context is different. In the latter case, he’s not taking an aggravated stand against his nephew: he’s explaining it privately to Charles Dickens, who’s eagerly eating it all up and writing it down.

Obviously, The Man Who Invented Christmas is a fictionalized take on what inspired A Christmas Carol. However, the film does still present many facts, such as how the book was written in a surprisingly condensed time period, how Charles Dickens was trying to revive his career after a few flops, and more. In fact, the screenplay, written by Susan Coyne, is based on the nonfiction book The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits, by Les Standiford.

When your name’s in print that big, that’s either a really good thing… or a really bad thing.

The way the film works in familiar lines, names, people, sights, and sounds to show possible sources of Charles Dickens’ inspiration for the timeless tale is very clever and sure to excite audiences who are familiar with the story Dickens will eventually complete. Charles Dickens alternately whirls through writing sessions in a rush of inspiration, and struggles to get even a single word out of his quill. It’s a very accurate portrayal of what the creative process can be like, and is quite engaging to watch.

Of course, there is far more to this story than that. Without giving too much away, Charles Dickens’ bouts of extreme writer’s block, his struggle to come up with a satisfying ending, and even his passion and inspiration for this undertaking have sources that go far deeper and are far more personal than even he himself anticipated. (Incidentally, the latter is also a surprisingly common step in the creative process.) It is in these moments that his family, friends, and colleagues take on a new significance that I dare not spoil.

In the same way A Christmas Carol took the seemingly inaccessible character of an elderly, bitter, wealthy businessman all alone in the world and made him and his journey identifiable, immersive, and moving, The Man Who Invented Christmas takes the seemingly inaccessible character of a writer who’s seen supreme success and achieved worldwide fame and praise and does the same.

I found out about this movie by accident: a family member had on a TV channel I barely watch, and I was in the kitchen. I started hearing disembodied voices from the TV saying, “Scrooge!” repeatedly, and I immediately left my food where it was and bolted down the stairs to see which version of A Christmas Carol they were advertising. Was it airing on TV? Was it a brand new version premiering in theaters?! Upon seeing the commercial, I was not only pleasantly surprised, but immediately hooked and looking up the release date.

Pictured: an accurate depiction of how I look when I tell people about this movie.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is a wonderfully entertaining “peek behind the (fictionalized) curtain” of A Christmas Carol, and a way to see the familiar story through fresh eyes. My verdict: go check it out! Bring family, bring friends, or just go alone: whatever the case, you’ll leave smiling. Whether you’re more Buddy the Elf or Ebenezer Scrooge this holiday season, The Man Who Invented Christmas is sure to put you in the holiday… “spirit”!

This is how eagerly you all anticipate my blog articles, right?

Thank you for reading, and may you keep Christmas and the holiday season all the year,
Jamie Lee

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