The Spirit of Christmas Come to Life: Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol

Since Christmas is only two days away, I thought I would review something that’s connected to the holidays.  I gave it some thought and decided that I’d review the classic tale, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  And since that novel has spawned so many adaptations, I wanted to focus on one in particular: the Hallmark Entertainment 1999 television film directed by David Hugh Jones and starring Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Copyright © 1999 by RHI Entertainment.

Doubtless, everyone knows this story in one form or another.  Scrooge is a miserly old man who keeps his clerk, Bob Cratchit, in dismal conditions and his family in poverty.  On the night before Christmas, Scrooge receives a visit from the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley, who has since repented of the greed and bitterness that Scrooge continues to live by.  Marley informs his old partner to change his ways with the help of three spirits–the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet To Come–or else he shall wear the same chains as Marley for all eternity.  Naturally, Scrooge goes through a journey of self-discovery, sees the harm he has inflicted on both himself and the Cratchit family, and mends his ways on Christmas morning.

The 1999 television film actually does a very good job of staying faithful to the original story as told by Charles Dickens.  Every member of the cast does his or her part to bring this story to life, but the great Patrick Stewart is the one to make this film truly memorable, whether he’s coldly deterring festive Londoners or giddily observing the celebration of Christmas through the help of the three Ghosts.  I think my favorite scene of him has to be when he wakes up in his bedroom on Christmas morning, having undergone a complete change of heart and trying to laugh for the first time in years.  It’s both as comical and heartwarming as it sounds.

Being a reviewer of science fiction and fantasy stories, I do have to give this film credit for how it handled the supernatural element.  Visually, every spirit carries its own weight.  Jacob Marley and his fellow ghosts are all vaguely human, floating aimlessly despite the immense weights dragging them down.  The Ghost of Christmas Past is so ethereal and detached (much like one’s own recollections of the past, where everyone was so bright long ago), while the Ghost of Christmas Present is a bold and jovial man, handing out blessings to all in his path and pressing on Scrooge the need to repent.  Of course, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come says nothing, but merely points Scrooge toward the cold and lonely fate that may await him.  When paired with the cynical and materialistic Scrooge, their performances form the backbone to the film’s quiet drama.

It was thanks to this film that I really grew to appreciate the whole meaning of A Christmas Carol.  Whatever one may say about Bob Cratchit as an emblem of the working-class abuses that were commonplace in the Victorian era or the Christ-like symbolism of Tiny Tim, it’s clear that this story is really about the possibility of redemption.  It’s a testament to human nature that even a man as old, cold, and bitter as Ebenezer Scrooge can see the error of his ways and take a kinder view of the world.  It gives me hope for any person who’s lost sight of his true self or has wandered far from simple decency, especially at a time of the year when the holiday season (in my humble opinion) is meant to be a time to spend with one’s family and friends, reaffirming all that’s right with the world.

This is the Rhapsodist, wishing all you readers and all your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

This blog is going to be on break for the next week, so be sure to tune for a new year and a new set of reviews on Tuesday, January 4, 2011.  Thank you all for reading, and here’s to a whole new year of discoveries!

Bibliography: A Christmas Carol (1999 television film).  Written by Peter Barnes.  Based on the novel by Charles Dickens.  Directed by David Hugh Jones.  Produced by Dyson Lovell.  Perf. Patrick Stewart, Robert E. Grant, Joel Grey.  RHI Entertainment.  December 5, 1999.

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