Review: The Man Who Invented Christmas

Tara (Charles Dickens’ servant, played by Anna Murphy): Is Tiny Tim dead?
Scrooge: Well, of course he is, imbecile.
Charles Dickens: He was very ill.
Scrooge: You can’t save every child in London.
Charles Dickens: And the family has no money for a doctor.
Tara: Then Scrooge must save him!
Scrooge: ME?
Charles Dickens: He wouldn’t…
Tara: WHY?
Charles Dickens: Well, he’s too selfish.
Tara: He can change, there’s good in him, somewhere. I know it.
Scrooge: People don’t change.
Charles Dickens: He’s been this way, for a long time. I’m not sure he can change.
Tara: Of course he can, he’s not a monster.
Scrooge: I thought this was a ghost story, not a fairy tale.

Forty people joined us for the Friends’ screening of the 2017 film The Man Who Invented Christmas. It tells the story of how Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) wrote and published “A Christmas Carol” during a frantic six weeks in the run up to Christmas 1843. Many thanks to Wendy the Picture House manager and her team for making the arrangements.

It is easy to underestimate the challenge of writing and publishing a book (or making a film for that matter) to a very tight deadline with a very limited budget. Dickens had written Oliver Twist in 1838 but that had been followed by three unsuccessful books. He often had writer’s block, was heavily in debt, and had a large family to support. He could easily have ended up in a debtors’ prison as his father did. Despite this A Christmas Carol became one of the best selling books of all time and went on to influence the way Christmas is celebrated across the world.

This film is not a documentary but does draw upon Dickens’ life experiences, including the ridicule he faced as a child while forced to work in a blacking (metal polish) factory. It’s worth watching for the locations, costumes and the photography, and especially for its portrayal of Dickens’ interactions with the characters which highlights the creative struggle at the moral core of the book, And I enjoyed spotting Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Miriam Margolyes, Miles Jupp and Simon Callow among the cast.

However. the film treats lightly the deep flaws in Dickens’ personality, including his recklessness and instability and his ill treatment of his wife. In my view the film is a very interesting “one-watch” but too sentimental to become a regular feature of Christmas screenings,

Agree/disagree? We welcome your comments or reviews below.


Bill Walton

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017): A Friends Festive Screening

Sunday 12th December 3.30 pm at Leeds University.
Members can claim up to 2 free tickets for this special festival screening

Film poster featuring Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce in The Man Who Invented Christmas. How Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol and created a tradition

The man in question is, of course, Charles Dickens; and his invention is his novella ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843). This must be the most famous contribution to the festive season in modern times. There are likely two dozen adaptations of the book on film plus others on television, radio and in the theatre. And its influence can be seen in many other tales rolled out every year; it has always seemed to me that It’s a Wonderful Life works by inverting the earlier story. The smart variation offered in this movie is the portrait of Dickens writing his masterwork in the last weeks of 1843.

It is a dramatisation and whilst much of it is accurate it also includes invention and embroidering; check out ‘History vs Hollywood’ which examines some of these issues. The six week time period of the film is accurate; in that year Dickens was seeking an elusive popular novel and also worrying over financial problems. Meanwhile the Victorian Christmas was emerging; the 25th became a Bank Holiday in 1834; whilst Boxing Day and Bob Cratchit had to wait until 1871. The source for the movie was US writer Les Standiford who produces historical non-fiction and had the bright idea of presenting both how Dickens produced his famous work but also its influence on the increasing importance of this festival.

The film depicts Dickens drawing on his own life experiences to dramatise a tale of ‘light’ and shadow’; incorporating already existing practices such as the large fowl for dinner and the succulent pudding. He also added family get togethers and carol singing. The film tends to emphasise the sentimentality that was part of Dickens’ writing. There is less emphasis on the darker aspects of Victorian Britain; aspects written about vividly in the same period by Frederick Engels (‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’, 1845).

In the course of the film we see Dickens (Dan Stevens) tussling with the  characters he develops, including Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer); receiving inspiration from those about him including an invented Irish maid Tara (Anna Murphy): and revisiting his past and family, including his father John (Jonathan Pryce). He also has to tussle with publishers, printers and illustrators as the novel takes shape and prepares for publication.

A widescreen scene from the film featuring a busy Victorian street of shops.

The amount of sentiment gave mental indigestion to certain critics; but a larger number appreciated the topicality for the season and the interest in seeing the gestation of one of the most remarkable contributions to English literature. There is some fine playing form a cast of familiar British actors and characters. The production values, produced on digital formats, are good. The title is in widescreen, 2.35:1, and colour and runs for 104 minutes. This is an entertaining way to develop that Christmas mood extolled by Dickens. And there is time left before the Festival to revisit the original. In 1843, if you waited until Christmas Eve, you would have been disappointed as the first edition had fully sold by then and you would then have to wait till the days before the New Year.


For this special Christmas screening, Friends of Hyde Park Picture House are entitled to up to 2 free tickets, all other tickets are £5.

If you had an active Friends membership in February 2020 (irrespective of whether this may have lapsed since then), your registered email address will already be on the box office system. This means you can purchase online, and the system will automatically discount your tickets.

To please your order –

  • Simply click on this link to the website
  • To book, first select your seat(s)
  • Continue through the booking process to the basket
  • When you go to checkout, you will be asked for your email address
  • Enter this and follow the instructions, and your tickets will automatically appear as free in your basket

If you have any difficulty with this process, or are unable to order through the website, please email info@hydeparkpicturehouse.co.uk, or call 0113 275 2045.

More Festive Fun

Unfortunately we haven’t been able to put on our Christmas screening this year but there are other events and festive treats to be found online. Heart’s Lockdown Film Club continues on Fridays (see Bill’s post for details), the Kennington Bioscope seasonal special is happening tonight (7:30pm Youtube) and Carol Morley is bringing her Friday Film Club back for a festive special this Friday (18th December) at 8pm.

Director Jeanie Finlay has visited the Picture House a few times with Sound It Out and most recently Seahorse. Her 2015 film tells the story of how a small community theatre fights to keep afloat in austere times so is perhaps even more relevant today.

“The film captures magnificently the spirit of the production in all its chaotic, funny, joyful and exhilarating glory”

THE TIMES

“Wonderfully uplifting”

RADIO TIMES

A link to watch the film for free will be available on Friday (see @CarolMorley‘s Twitter page or the #FridayFilmCub hashtag for more details ), the idea is to watch at the same time and then go on Twitter to discuss the film. If you’re not on Twitter you can still watch the film and tell us what you thought in the comments below.

We’ll keep an eye out for any other online events or great films that available to watch at home over the festive period and hope that you all manage to still find a way to enjoy the holiday period.

Christmas Screening Suggestions

Now October is here it’s time for us to start thinking about Christmas. Every year the Friends organise a free Christmas screening for members and this year we’d like your help to select a film. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a Christmas film but should be one that captures the festive spirit. Our recent screenings (see below) have tended towards classic films but there have been a lot of new festive films recently. It’s likely to be the last Friends event before the closure so it would be good to make it special.

Leave a comment, contact us or post your ideas on Facebook or Twitter and we’ll collate all the suggestions and see what we can do. Please let us have your suggestions by Sunday 20th October and It’s A Wonderful Life will be having it’s traditional screening at the Picture House so we (probably?) won’t be showing that.

Previous Christmas Screenings include:

Friends’ Christmas Screening: Fargo

Thursday 15th December, doors 7:15pm, film 8:30pm

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Fargo (TV) Christmas Cards available from RedBubble

Our annual Christmas screening this year is the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. Jerry Lundegaard is a car salesman in Minneapolis who has landed himself deep into debt. Desperate for money, he hires two inept crooks to kidnap his own wife in the hope that her wealthy father will pay the ransom. But when Jerry’s plan goes horribly wrong, Marge Gunderson – a pregnant but persistent police chief in rural Minnesota – is brought in to try and unravel the deadly scheme.

Members are invited to join us any time from 7:15pm for sherry, mince pies and a chance to look at plans for the HLF scheme. The film won’t begin until after 8:30 though so arrive whenever suits you. We anticipate this will be a well attended screening so if you would definitely like to see the film can you please RSVP to Wendy before 10th December.

Christmas in Connecticut

For our Friends’ Christmas special this year we are pleased to present Christmas in Connecticut (1945) this Wednesday 14th December.

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Members are invited to join us from 5.45pm for a mince pie and a glass of sherry and to meet and speak with other members of the Friends then the film will screening shortly after 6.30pm.

This showing is free to members of the Friends but everybody is welcome and normal ticket prices apply to non members.

The film follows a sharp writer who, despite never setting foot in a kitchen, writes a cooking column for a women’s magazine. In order to trick her publisher, she poses as a happy homemaker, complete with husband, baby and country estate. Her goose is cooked when the publisher arranges for her to host a sailor over the Christmas holidays. The journalist has to marry her boyfriend, find a home and prepare a spectacular meal for a huge magazine spread. Things grow even more complicated when she starts to fall for her guest.

It’s a Wonderful Life USA 1945

From Friday December 18th until Thursday 24th.

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This classic film comes round every Christmas. Some of the audience revisit an old favourite; some taste its pleasures for the time. After over six decades of success one would think that there is nothing left to say or write about this film. But, just as it finds new fans, it also stimulates fresh insights and comments. With an unusual stance Sandy Irvine in Picturing a Planet in Peril (Introducing Green Issues to Film Studies in Splice Volume 3 issue 2, Spring 2009) writes:

“Take, for example, the popular evergreen It’s a Wonderful Life by Frank Capra, released in 1945. The major driving force in environmental destruction is simply human overpopulation, and George Bailey [James Stewart] and his wife [Donna Reed] generously contribute to the population boom by parenting four children, instead of just ‘replacing’ themselves with two (indeed, in real life, actress Donna Reed was a mother of four).”

This aspect possibly escapes most members of the audience. And I am sure that you can enjoy the film and not worry about population during its screening. There is an unexpressed assumption here. That George should follow in his parent’s virtuous footsteps: not just by taking on the Building and Loan Society, but also in only fathering two children: in their case George and his brother Harry (Todd Karns).

I have to confess that I would have been hard put to name the four Bailey children. I looked it up, Janie Bailey (Carol Combs), Pete Bailey (Jimmy Hawkins), Tommy Bailey (Larry Simms), Zuzu Bailey (Karolyn Grimes). However, I could name Clarence’s (Henry Travers) favourite book, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. And I could identify one of Uncle Bill’s (Thomas Mitchell) pets as a squirrel.

So if you have a new insight over the coming week why not post a comment?

Friends’ Christmas Screening – Scrooge, Sunday 13th December

Members  of the Friends Of Hyde Park Picture House are cordially invited to an afternoon of festival celebration on Sunday 13th December.

Doors will open at 1:45pm for a 2pm presentation by Julia Thomason from David Clarke Associates, the consultancy firm the Picture House is working with to develop a plan for the future of the building. From 2:15pm we’ll  be serving  sherry and mince pies and there will be time for questions and discussion on the future of the Picture House.

At 3pm our feature presentation is the 1951 version of SCROOGE starring Alastair Sim – possibly the most famous retelling of Dickens’ classic tale of an old miser given the chance to change his ways one bitter and cold Christmas Eve.

Scrooge

Tickets are free to members but please RSVP by Monday 7th December to wendy@hydeparkpicturehouse.co.uk, via the Facebook event or by letting the box office know you wish to attend. Non-members are welcome to attend the screening section of the afternoon though they must purchase a ticket as per a normal screening.

There are also a number of other Christmas films showing in December including  Joyeux Noël (Sat 5th), Muppets Christmas Carol (Sat 12th & Sun 20th), Home Alone (Sat 19th) and from Friday 19th two quite different films taking place on Christmas Eve, Tangerine and of course It’s A Wonderful Life.