Charles Dickens is having writer’s block – and he’s short on money, too.
The year is 1843, and the man who wrote “The Adventures of Oliver Twist” and “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” is struggling to come up with another hit. His newest books are getting bad reviews. His publisher even is threatening to cut him off.
“I’ve run out of ideas,” he tells a good friend.
It’s no small problem. An author without ideas is an author without a paycheck. And with several mouths to feed and another baby on the way, Dickens is feeling the pressure.
But then he gets inspired from a series of real-life events. He sees a rich man disparage a beggar. He hears about a poor man tossed into debtor’s prison. Perhaps his next novel could spotlight a cold-hearted miser who despises not only poor people, but Christmas, too. Dickens will call the character … “Scrooge”!
The Man Who Invented Christmas (PG) opens this week, telling the incredible story behind the origins of one of Dickens’ most popular books, “A Christmas Carol.” It stars Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as Dickens and Christopher Plummer (Up, The Sound of Music) as Ebenezer Scrooge.
The film gets its curious title from the impact of “A Christmas Carol” on our modern-day celebration of the holiday. The book popularized the phrase “Merry Christmas,” sparked a rise in generosity, and helped revive Christmas as an important date on the calendar. Until then, it often passed with little fanfare. (And, for the record, Jesus – not Dickens – invented Christmas.)
Here’s what parents need to know:
Warning: minor spoilers!
1. It’s an instant Christmas classic. If you like “A Christmas Carol,” then you’ll love The Man Who Invented Christmas. It’s entertaining. It’s engaging. It’s inspiring. Stevens and Plummer are the perfect fit for their roles, and the screenplay is wonderful. It’s not easy making a movie about a man writing a book. Think about it: How do you depict his mental struggles – his writer’s block — on the big screen? The filmmakers accomplished this by showing Dickens literally talking to Scrooge. Scrooge follows Dickens around the house and around town, promoting the “merits” of selfishness. Dickens, though, pushes back against the miser’s egocentric beliefs.
2. It’s mostly family-friendly. Well, minus a few scary parts that might trouble young children. We see several depictions of ghosts from the story and one scene involving a deceased-but-talking Jacob Marley (a character from “A Christmas Carol”). If children are troubled by the previous film and TV versions, then they should skip this film. As for coarse language, I heard one “a–” and a few uses of the British word “bloody.” The film contains no sexuality. Finally, the movie includes one uncomfortable scene involving Dickens and his father arguing (Dickens tells him he’s “sick of the sight” of him), but by the end of the movie, they reconcile.
3. It’s full of great lessons. Such as on generosity – Dickens wrote the story to promote it – and on redemption.
An irritable Scrooge tells Dickens that “people don’t change,” but Dickens refuses to believe it. He wants Scrooge to repent of his sinful ways. That sounds like something straight out of Scripture, doesn’t it? (Remember: Roughly half the New Testament was written by a man who once hated and murdered Christians!) The Man Who Invented Christmas is not a faith-based film, but its principles can give parents plenty to talk about on the ride home.
4. It’s a fun way to learn history. I knew very little about Charles Dickens’ personal life, but I walked away wanting to learn more about this fascinating and famous author whose books I’ve read. Hopefully, children and teenagers will feel the same way.
5 It will make sense only if you’ve read “A Christmas Carol.” Or at least have watched a movie or film adaptation. In other words, this movie’s not for those who know nothing about Dickens’ famous story. Learn about the story. And then enjoy the film.
Rated PG for thematic elements and some mild language.
Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.