CREDIT: Kerry Brown/Bleecker Street

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Callow, Morfydd Clark, Anna Murphy

Director: Bharat Nalluri

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG for Intense Childhood Poverty Memories

Release Date: November 22, 2017 (Limited)

Did you know that Charles Dickens is the man to thank for Christmas in its current form? I am sure that many of you are aware how his novel A Christmas Carol has had an outsize impact on yuletide-celebrating cultures, but apparently his influence goes so much further. It turns out that his tale of Ebenezer Scrooge singlehandedly changed December 25 from a recognized, but inconsequential blip on the calendar into the biggest day of the year. Or so The Man Who Invented Christmas would have us believe…

Here’s the thing, though: beside its title and epilogue, The Man Who Invented Christmas does essentially nothing to support its supposed thesis. When reviewing cinema, I ask, “What is this movie trying to be, and is it successful?” This is a distinct question from “What is the director (or any of the other filmmakers) trying to do?” because sometimes a great film can be made accidentally. (Cult favorite The Room is the perfect such example.) But when a movie states its purpose so directly and then completely fails to even attempt to live up to that purpose, it is hard not to get frustrated.

All that being said, it is not as if The Man Who Invented Christmas is an hour and a half of nothing happening. In fact, much of it is actually a fairly fascinating examination of the creative process. Dickens (a fleet-witted, buzzy Dan Stevens) promises his publishers that he can complete his new Christmas-themed book in a grueling six weeks in time for a holiday release. As he writes, he is visited by what appear to be actual physical manifestations of the characters he is currently conjuring up: the Cratchits, Jacob Marley, and of course, Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer, quite naturally slotting into all that humbug).

The parts of this film that are essentially a two-hander between Stevens and Plummer (with a few supporting Carol-ers) work quite well, and I think I would have really liked it if that had been the whole movie. But there’s also a fair amount of business to do with Dickens’ tumultuous personal life, much of it regarding his destitute father John (Jonathan Pryce), whom Charles alternately regards as a leech and a kindly old man. There is enough complicated psychology here to render a more straightforward biopic that could be a tough but rewarding watch. But as these moments are mostly there just to provide context, they do not go much deeper than surface level.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is Recommended If You Like: A Christmas Carol completism, Anything with Dan Stevens and/or Christopher Plummer

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Deadlines