The Best of A Christmas Carol - Part One

It's the joyous and expensive month of Christmas, so why not count down the best of Scrooge? It'll be fun, right?

It’s a timeless classic that endures in the hearts of all ages with every December. Life affirming, profound and wonderful, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol rings just as prominent today as it did during its initial publication in 1843. Retold through countless incarnations throughout the century in nearly every entertainment media possible since the beginning of film and television, Dickens immortalized “Bah Humbug!” and “God bless us everyone” into our collective cultural consciousness. Kicking off December’s favorite tale of holiday cheer, The Movie Sleuth picks some of our favorite moments from various adaptations of this ageless story of a lonely, sour man who learns what it means to be happy and love everything that is Christmas again.

Best Bob Cratchit

Bob Cratchit’s diligence is recognized in his obedience, and the kind hearted respect he gives to those around him. His role in Dickens’ tale is most inspiring to the common working man. It’s the reassurance that hard work, faith, and honestly is rewarded to all who hold true to their morals. Of all the Bob Cratchit’s depicted in film, The Movie Sleuth recognizes David Collins’ performance from the 1970’s adaptation Scrooge. His performance captures the optimism of Bob Cratchit, and his unwillingness to let his struggles bring him down. Collins brings a sense of humor to Cratchit that translates well on screen. The lighthearted approach creates a likable tenderness, and his fun loving nature spreads joy to all around him, except for Scrooge of course. It creates a unique dynamic that makes Scrooge look meaner. Being a bitter old man is one thing, but taking advantage of a loyal servant is sinister! Collins’ cheerful portrayal even carry over into Cratchit’s most heartbreaking moments. During these scenes, Cratchit struggles to be his chipper self while fighting against the despair that threaten to damper his spirits. The outcome is a heartbreak that is encompassed in bravery, and tragic admiration. In many ways it makes his sadness more profound. Collins delivers in every scene and captures the heartwarming nature of a man who has made the best of what life has given him. Despite his struggles, he remains thankful, humble, and compassionate. Above all, it’s his joyful nature that makes Scrooge’s Cratchit so likable. Especially when it’s time to enjoy the traditional Cratchit Family Punch.

Coming in at a close second is Donald Calthrop performance in Scrooge (1935). Calthrop is the gentleman’s Bob Cratchit. A faithful man of obedience and charm. He portrays a very meek and dutiful clerk, who is constantly timid around his senior employer. Yet when Cratchit is relieved of his duties on Christmas Eve, viewers are treated to an amazing transformation as the work tired Cratchit lights the screen with a bright smile and boyish excitement. Most memorable is the Christmas dinner scene, where Mrs Cratchit is in a fit of nerves over the outcome of the Christmas pudding. Calthrop recites Dickens’ words beautifully as he jokes about all the possible ways the pudding could be ruined, much to his children’s horror and delight. It’s a standout performance that still marvels after nearly 80 decades.

Best Tiny Tim
Of all the shadows of things that may be, the death of Tim Cratchit has the most sobering effect on Ebenezer Scrooge. The role of Tiny Tim is not particularly large, but his impact has great significance. Among all, Anthony Walters performance in the 1984 CBS television production of A Christmas Carol  is The Movie Sleuth’s choice for most memorable. True to the novel, he is small thin boy. In this production in particular he is most sickly looking. Just watching his scenes provokes a sense of pity and sympathy. While taking nothing away from the other adaptations, it’s this attention to illness in the CBS production that enforces the physique of an unwell child. This helps reinforces the later scenes, and the shadows of things yet to come. 

But, this Tiny Tim isn’t all miserable. When the Cratchit children rush to the table for Christmas Dinner, a slow moving and hobbled Tim is all smiles. It’s the powerful contrast of positive reinforcement despite handicap that makes Walters performance stand out. Also, all the classic lines are very natural, and not over delivered for cinematic emphasis. “God bless us everyone” has suffered enough over deliveries. The casual family dinner table affair creates a more intimate and comforting scene. Overall, Walters’ portrayal of Tiny Tim not only captures Scrooge’s pity and admiration, but viewers as well. 

Honorable Mentions 

Richard Beaumont - Scrooge 1970. As it should be, Tiny Tim is small in this beloved version. It helps subject a weakness, but makes Beaumont’s smile and passion shine all the brighter. His performance is the happiest of all those who have portrayed of Tiny Tim. Most heartwarming is the song The Beautiful Day that Beaumont sings for the Cratchit family on Christmas day. It’s a reminder of Tim’s age and innocence, and makes his positive outlook on life despite his handicap all the more admirable. 

Jacob Moriarty - A Christmas Carol: The Musical  - 2004. In this Hallmark production, not only is Tim crutch burdened, but his bad leg is encased in an iron frame cast, which hints to the original description in Dickens’ novel. In an expanded scene we see Bob carry his son to bed and Tim speaking to his father about his dreams to walk on his own and his wish to get better. Moriarty performance is heartfelt, and brings to light the positivity and bright spirit of Tiny Tim.  

Truest Adaptation

When it comes to the most accurate adaptation of Dickens’ tale, The Movie Sleuth has chosen TNT’s 1999 production - A Christmas Carol. It is the best depiction of this beloved holiday classic. While expanding a storyline for film or television is often a necessity, this offering used this practice sparingly, and writer Peter Barnes used many rarely used (and some never before used) details from the novel. This film gets it right on so many levels. The Cratchit family is especially well represented in this film. Their situation is very apparent. They are a poor family, and they look every bit the part. Their clothing is old and worn, and their home is small with little furnishings. There is nothing flashy or even festive in their household. The setting allows the families infectious joy and anticipation for Christmas dinner seem all the brighter and more exciting. Overall It is a very accurate depiction, historically and economically. 

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  One scene that many adaptations misrepresent involves Scrooge joining his nephew for Christmas dinner. Patrick Stewart’s nervous portrayal of Scrooge as he sheepishly enters his nephew’s home is spot on. Its an important scene that has been overjoyed in other films, yet Stewart’s performance stands out for its humility and embarrassment. The original apologetic approach makes for a more believable reformed Scrooge. One who holds himself responsible for his past behavior, and is aware of the consequences his isolation and cruelty has caused. 

Stewart's performance overall is very impressive, offering a more intellectual Scrooge, which better suits his character. Scrooge did not gain his wealth just by saving his money, he was a man of business. The educated portrayal of Scrooge gives even more depth to his character. His understanding of the world gives his bitterness a bit of justification. One memorable scene Stewart brings justice too is when Scrooge’s sister Fran comes to the schoolhouse on Christmas day to bring her brother home. It is a short scene with deep impact. There are very little words spoken by the elder Scrooge while the Ghost of Christmas Present watches nearby, but the emotions Steward conveys in his facial expressions go beyond any dialogue. It is done with such graceful sadness that it’s hard not to feel sorry for the old miser. 

Another rarely used passage from Dickens novel that is represented well in this film showcases multiple cultures celebrating Christmas. It’s The Ghost of Christmas Present’s tactic to enlighten Scrooge on the impact Christmas has on the world, and not just the town he lives in. It’s proper addition to this film adds more depth to the messages relayed in the story, and creates more of an impact for Scrooge on the magnitude of Christmas. TNT’s A Christmas Carol  isn’t just the truest adaptation of this holiday classic, but one of the best adaptations of any book that has gotten the big screen treatment. 

-Lee Lind
-Andrew Kotwicki