THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS (Bharat Nalluri). 104 minutes. Opens Friday (November 24). See listing. Rating: NN
Blame Charles Dickens for Starbucks red cups and Christmas wreaths creeping onto Costco shelves in September. The Oliver Twist author was among the first to capitalize on the holidays, which during that Victorian period was gaining renewed interest while shifting away from its religious roots.
Dickens’s most popular novella, A Christmas Carol, was published in a hurry on December 19, 1843, selling out its first edition by Christmas Eve.
The Man Who Invented Christmas, adapted by Canadian screenwriter Susan Coyne from Les Standiford’s book, revisits that moment when Dickens, after publishing a few flops, scratched together Ebenezer Scrooge in a tale that popularized notions of holiday get-togethers and gift-giving. The movie is about launching a product aimed for the holidays while simultaneously being that very thing.
Taking a page from fare like Shakespeare In Love and Finding Neverland, this tolerably fictionalized take sees Dan Stevens play Dickens as amiably erratic. He often locks himself up in his study, keeping his own supportive family at a distance, while having imagined conversations with his own creation, Scrooge. Playing the latter, Christopher Plummer does terrific work finding the vulnerability and wit behind the ashen exterior.
Because there isn’t much of a story to tell (Dickens beat us to the punch), the movie takes fanciful gambits. We find people in the author’s life to inspire the characters in his classic and muster up frictions from his relationships so that we can see the Scrooge, those ghosts and even Tiny Tim in him.
Despite a fine cast and elegant trappings, the whole thing feels like it’s clutching at straws, slapping together what seems inspiring and festive like we’re overstuffing a turkey.