Cinematic Releases: The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) - Reviewed

Dan Stevens is quickly becoming one of my favorite working actors today, beginning with his breakout performance as wealthy aristocratic heir Matthew Crawley in the hit television show Downton Abbey to his wicked turn as a trained killer in The Guest.  Expressive, charismatic and full of seemingly boundless energy, the British star now turns in his own unique interpretation of one of the most beloved British authors of all time: Charles Dickens. 

In this fast and loose biopic crossed with an unorthodox retelling of the novelist’s most famous work A Christmas Carol, the aptly named heart warmer The Man Who Invented Christmas aims to place the viewer in the creative headspace of Mr. Dickens in the throes of penning the holiday classic.  Unlike the Ralph Fiennes directed biopic The Invisible Woman which aimed to lift the veil from Dickens’ legacy by highlighting his thirteen year spanning infidelities, The Man Who Invented Christmas joins Saving Mr. Banks as a somewhat fluffy piece of revisionist history. 

And yet Dan Stevens’ performance is so entertaining in it’s Gene Wilder-esque manic energy and Tsunami: The Aftermath director Bharat Nalluri renders the Victorian atmosphere with such fondness that we’re too caught up in the Christmas pleasures to care.  Equally strong is veteran actor Jonathan Pryce as Dickens’ troubled father who becomes the object of the author’s burgeoning frustration when he invites himself back into his son’s life.  While Pryce doesn’t quite tap into the darker weathers deployed in Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up, Philip, he manages here to be a sympathetic troublemaker we can’t help but feel some measure of pity for.  

A particular standout of course goes to Christopher Plummer as Ebeneezer Scrooge, interacting freely with the author as he struggles to write the story.  There have been many different takes on the iconic villain-turned-hero it is hard to choose which one is my favorite, Alastair Sim and George C. Scott being neck and neck for me, though I have to say this quasi-meta take on the character by Plummer is one of the most interesting interpretations seen in decades.  Where many other interpretations that have come and gone that go through the usual motions, it was exciting to see Plummer and Stevens play off one another, suggesting Dickens had more in common with his unlikable protagonist than he initially realized.

Descendants of Dickens often remarked he was a desperately unhappy man with more than a few demons of his past gnawing away at him.  Though this is ultimately a family Christmas movie/study of the writing process, The Man Who Invented Christmas does manage to touch on Dickens’ dark side thanks to Stevens’ performance and Nalluri’s atmospheric direction.  There’s also something to be said about the film’s free use of surrealism to dive into Dickens’ head as he interacts with the characters of his creating as though they were really real, disappearing in an instant as the outside world interrupts the author’s creative impulse. 

More than anything, as a holiday crowd pleaser The Man Who Invented Christmas presents Dickens absorbing information all around him like a sponge before ultimately channeling it into his now revered literary classics.  Where the aforementioned The Invisible Woman seemed to wallow in the author’s despair in later life, The Man Who Invented Christmas for what it’s worth tries to shed light on the moment where Dickens for once truly did bring joy to the world.


- Andrew Kotwicki