Director Bharat Nalluri’s The Man Who Invented Christmas, an adaption of Les Standiford’s non-fiction book of the same name, differentiates itself from the deluge of holiday films this season by fusing the biographical with the fanciful. The familiar story is ulimately elevated by memorable performances from Dan Stevens (FX’s Legion, Beauty and the Beast), Christopher Plummer (who recently replaced Kevin Spacey in Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World), and Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean series).
Acclaimed author Charles Dickens (Stevens) is in a rut. He has published three consecutive flops, and his bank account is nearly depleted. He desperately needs another hit like Oliver Twist or Nicholas Nickleby. After a stroke of inspiration provided by his servant, Dickens realizes that Christmas – a then waning holiday – would be the perfect setting for a compelling tale of redemption. And so, Dickens, grappling with writer’s block and his hard luck father (Pryce), struggles to finish what would become one of his greatest achievements – A Christmas Carol – in a matter of weeks.
Plummer, as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, steals the show. He’s gleefully amoral and Stevens, as the young rockstar novelist, imbues Dickens with an irresistible charisma. Their verbal sparring within the domain of Dickens’ imagination are the film’s highlights. Screenwriter Susan Coyne’s ingenious idea to pit creator and creation against each other enables the two actors to perform at the top of their game.
However, The Man Who Invented Christmas is bogged down by an overly sentimental final act that refuses to forgo (or at least partly sidestep) the trappings of A Christmas Carol. Rather than provide the audience with a deep, introspective exploration of Dickens and his inner demons, the film devolves into holiday cliches and skin-deep pop psychology. What remains is a sappy – albeit charming – Christmas story that does little to reimagine Dickens’ oft-adapted tale.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
The Man Who Invented Christmas is for viewers looking to ring in the holidays with a familiar yet elegantly executed Christmas film. Little new ground is explored but the performances are all top notch and Nalluri’s almost theatrical direction imbues every scene with a vitality rarely scene off the stage.