From Downton Abbey to Hollywood, Dan Stevens is now a bona fide star due to the billion dollar success of this year’s live action version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Now he shines as Charles Dickens in this enjoyable and not too spooky account of the writing of famous festive ghost story, A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843.
This is an interesting perspective on the classic tale of yuletide redemption, though the script assumes the audience has read the book or at least seen one of the many filmed versions, the earliest being a silent short from 1901.
With a growing family but a shrinking career, Dickens’ is in desperate need of a hit.
Unfortunately he has a serious case of writer’s block so similarly to Will Shakespeare in 1998’s Shakespeare in Love, the author wanders around London, finding inspiration in characters he meets.
Jonathan Pryce is affecting as Dickens’ spendthrift father, whose return from the countryside brings back traumatic childhood memories.
Dickens acts out each character as he writes, allowing Stevens to display his versatility. As good as he is, it’s when the ghosts arrive in his imagination the film comes to life.
Christopher Plummer is far less flamboyant yet overshadows Stevens in a wonderfully glowering turn as the miser Scrooge, who refuses to do Dicken’s bidding.
Justin Edwards adopts a Geordie accent as Dickens’ friend and confident John Forster, though his romantic subplot seems an unnecessary flourish.
And there’s room to squeeze in a romcom type dash to the train station in a Hansom cab, which at least has a stylish novelty to it.
Suggesting Dickens reinvented Christmas as a time of charity is a bold claim and unsubstantiated by the script. Plus of course it would also make the socially aware writer partly implicit in the reckless greed of Black Friday.
However it’s message of charity is unmissable and bears repeating in these cold, dark days.