Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published December 1st 2019
We all need a little Scrooge
Ah, Charles Dickens. The bane of school children everywhere in the 80s and before. I was forced to read Great Expectations, my mother had to suffer through A Tale Of Two Cities decades before. Now, I do know that quite a few people do enjoy Dickens, but I am, on the whole, not one. I also understand that what we now consider novels were written as serials, like the soap operas of their day, and hence the extra characters and strange sub-plots. I do understand all that.
Having said that, I do enjoy a lot of Dickens' shorter works. And primary amongst those is a ghost story, a tale of redemption and self-realisation: A Christmas Carol (1843). That a novella written so long ago can still strike a chord with readers shows just how good a writer Dickens was.
I guess most people would know the story, but for those who don't, here's the Cliff Notes version: Ebenezer Scrooge is a miser and, on Christmas, is demanding and quite mean to everyone. That night he is visited by the ghost of his old partner Marley, and then the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Through this, Scrooge sees the error of his ways and becomes a nicer person and everyone lives happily ever after. Yay! I was introduced to this story when I was very young, one of the first ghost stories I can remember reading, and I have loved it ever since. This is a very good Christmas book.
Quick side diversion, if I may: Many years ago, when I was a teacher, I was asked why one of the most beloved Christmas stories is a ghost story. So I did my research. Well, the Christmas ghost story predates commercial celebrations of Christmas and goes back to the Winter Solstice, which occurs just before Christmas. The shortest day and longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, and that gave rise to a tradition of telling scary stories about the night. This was simply taken across by Victorian story-tellers. Pretty cool, huh?
So, the best-filmed versions of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
This is one of the most filmed stories ever! I don't know how many different versions I've seen over the years, not to mention different versions in books and comics and music… the list certainly feels endless. But here are some of my favourites, in the order of the year they were produced. Hope you enjoy!
Scrooge (film) (1951)
This is an old version of the film, starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge. It is not entirely faithful to the book in some aspects, but the changes are all for the better in this particular version. But the thing that makes this film so good to me is the performance of Sim as Scrooge. He played the part so well. I also loved the dark, gloomy feel of the film; it really gives it that haunted, ghost story feel that some other versions lack. It might be old, but I do enjoy this.
Scrooge (musical film) (1970)
Okay, this might not be one of the very best, but it has a special place in my heart because this was the first version of A Christmas Carol I saw on the screen. It was on TV when I was quite young and I watched it and then went back to the book to see where the songs were. My dad then had to explain to me what a musical adaptation was. Despite that, it is surprisingly faithful to the original material. Some of the songs do feel sort of tacked on, but many help propel the plot forward or give decent character insight. It could probably be considered very much of its time, but that's okay; it's still pretty good.
Scrooged (film) (1988)
This is the story updated to the 1980s. Simple, right? Well, not really. Bull Murray plays Scrooge, and now he's an executive of a TV network. And it is funny. Murray has said that he is not a fan of it and that he disliked making it, but you wouldn't know. I saw this one at the cinema (I think with Cathy) and maybe it was the effect of seeing it on the big screen, but it's been a favourite ever since. The special effects are quite good (even considering the time it was made) and I find Murray's acting to be the perfect mix of the extremes required. A really great version.
Blackadder's Christmas Carol (TV Special) (1988)
This is Blackadder, played by Rowan Atkinson, and so you know it's going to be subverted somehow. Blackadder is a nice guy, visited by a ghost, and becomes the Blackadder we all know and love, including doing something mind-blowing stupid and rude to an important person (sort of important – Queen Victoria). It is hilarious, as you would expect, and the last vision of Baldrick running the universe is just bizarre. It should be pointed out that most versions available are edited, to get rid of a joke about a dog and a cross. Why? Not sure, but that's censorship for you.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (musical film) (1992)
I am slightly biased towards The Muppets. But this is possibly my favourite retelling of the story. Michael Caine does an awesome job as Scrooge, and The Muppets themselves as the supporting characters are fantastically well cast. It is a musical, but unlike the 1970 version, the songs all feel organic and a part of the story as a whole. It is very well- adapted and it is a lot of fun. I cannot say enough good things about this version. If you only see one on this list – this is the one to see.
A Christmas Carol (TV special) (1999)
I only watched this because it features Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. And I am glad I did. It is probably the most faithful adaptation to the book, not leaving a great deal out and not adding too much extra. But what makes it work is Stewart himself. He shows that he is a magnificent actor. (I should point out that he appears in one of my favourite films – Excalibur – and he is my favourite Star Trek commander.) I would love to have seen the stage play this was based on, but as it is, it is still a fine way to work the story.
Twelve Hundred Ghosts - A Christmas Carol in Supercut (400 versions, plus extras) (YouTube Mash-up) (2016)
Okay, got an hour to spare? You do? Good. Because this strange little piece of Internet magic is the whole story using snippets from nearly every source you could possibly imagine. And not just the films or TV specials, but also radio, TV commercials, audiobooks… the works! It is hilarious and yet it is so incredibly true to the original work. This is a work of love… or the work of an obsessive-compulsive with way too much time on his hands. Whatever it is, I don't care – this is superb. Give it a go. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.
2nd Chance For Christmas (Direct to DVD film) (2019)
Okay, sorry about this choice. Now, I normally hate these rom-com sort of Christmas tales, but this is quite a clever version of A Christmas Carol. Not only is it updated, but the Scrooge character is gender-swapped, played by Brittany Underwood as a spoilt music diva. It follows the story well enough – three ghosts and all that, and has the feel-good ending - but there is just something about it. Look, it's cheesy as anything, and it certainly doesn't improve on the original, but I found myself liking it. I think that's because Underwood does a good job in the role.
I should also point out this is what started this column – I was given a copy of it and that brought to mind other versions of the book.
And there you have it, some filmic versions of Dickens' classic tale of ghosts and Christmas.