Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published November 23rd 2017
He created the Dickens out of Christmas
Charles Dickens was, in the pre-movie era, a superstar in the Victorian world. His public speeches were mobbed, his lectures over sold many times, his books avidly read in instalments as they were written and he was idolised as a literary lion.
Dickens (Dan Stevens) and Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) (Photograph courtesy StudioCanal)
But it wasn't always so. In 1842 he had suffered a string of failures, Barnaby Rudge, The Old Curiosity Shop and American Notes had failed to meet the public's expectations raised by Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers and he found himself with a family of five children, aged parents to support and an extravagant lifestyle to maintain on a dwindling income.
He needed a hit, a big one. And this movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas, is the story of how he found it and in so doing gave our concept of Christmas as a holiday a huge boost. He didn't invent Christmas, of course, but it was as one of the characters remarks 'a trivial holiday' and his treatment of it in A Christmas Carol popularised the concept of the holiday as a charitable, giving, forgiving season.
Let me say at once that The Man Who Invented Christmas is a joy, a well-written, gloriously acted affectionate romp through our memories, mostly historically accurate and very true to the character of Dickens as we know it and his working methods as we know them.
Scrooge's third ghost. Leech's illustration for the first edition (Photograph courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
The cast is superb, from the creatures of Dickens' mind, who inhabit his study while he works - Scrooge (Christopher Plummer), Marley (Donald Sumpter) Mrs Fezziwig (Annette Badland) to his immediate family, father John (Jonathan Pryce), wife Kate (Morfydd Clark) and friends and colleagues (Ian McNeice, Simon Callow etc) to the figure of Dickens himself, magnificently played by Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame.
Sketch of Charles Dickens in 1842 and Dan Stevens in Downton Abbey (Photographs in the public domain and courtesy of ITV)
Author John Mortimer once remarked that Dickens' characters were slightly larger than life and float a foot above the ground. That is how Stevens plays Dickens, with gusto and brio. A man troubled by his poverty-ridden past and deeply conscious of the gross injustice of contemporary Britain, Stevens makes him a man we can admire, fear and above all, empathise with and understand.
The director, Bharat Nailuri, who mostly directs television (MI-5, Emily Owens, Torchwood) has made the very most out of Susan Coyne's screenplay from Les Standiford's book of the same name.
The question may arise in your mind 'How historically accurate is the movie?' But rest assured that most of the points are perfectly true and, unlikely as they may seem, are entirely accurate in essence. Dickens did complete, have the book illustrated, printed and ready for Christmas sales within six weeks. It did sell out (10,000 copies, not 5,000 as stated in the movie) within ten days and has never been out of print since.
However, the book, despite selling out, did not make the profit he hoped, but it did re-establish his reputation and influenced Victorian society in a positive way. The increase in charitable donations in 1844 were directly attributed to A Christmas Carol.
The Man Who Invented Christmas runs at Luna and Cinema Paradiso from November the 30th.