'The Man Who Invented Christmas' is merry and bright
By Martha K. Baker
If I never have to trudge through a production of "A Christmas Carol" again, I'll be happy. But watching the merry and bright film about the story's origin almost makes me want to see the show again, or maybe read the brief book by Charles Dickens. That's how delightful the movie is.
The year is 1843. The flop count: 3. Charles Dickens must have a hit after Martin Chuzzlewitt flat-lined. Christmas is a month away, the wolf is at the door of his fancy house with its fancy, unpaid-for appointments. Dickens' derelict dad is selling Charles' autographs, harvested from the garbage. Dickens' wife is preggers. Dickens' competition, in the form of William Makepeace Thackery, is taunting him at the Garrick Club. And Dickens worries that, without a hit, he will never write again.
Life couldn't get worse. Luckily, he begins to see and hear all the possibilities. Like the new Irish nanny's stories to his little ones about fairy spirits that cross over fairy mounds on one night of the year. Like a man named Marley. And another who declares "Humbug." Like a Christmas story, maybe a ballad. Or a carol. Dickens's kindly agent tells him there's not much of a market for Christmas books. Well, humbug, indeed.
Bharat Nalluri, who directed "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day," gave to "The Man Who Invented Christmas" a light-heartedness, a whimsy. Ben Smithard's cinematography echoes his warm work in "Goodbye Christopher Robin," making the light and the sets appeal to us Anglophiles. Dan Stevens is dandy as Dickens with Christopher Plummer a definite Scrooge and Jonathan Pryce a delicious Daddy Dickens. And although "The Man Who Invented Christmas" bogs down about half-way through, basically, it dances with sugarplums, silken cravats, and humanity.