A Christmas Carol (1999)


 

Our rating: 5 out of 5 
reviewer: Charity Bishop

   

I have seen many representations of this classic tale over the years and this one is something a little bit special. Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (Patrick Stewart) has just buried his friend and business partner, Jacob Marley (Bernard Lloyd)... on Christmas day, no less. He is the only person at the funeral and doesn't seem particularly concerned about it. Seven years pass and he never removes his friend from the letterhead at the door, certain that time will inevitably take care of its removal. The business is flourishing and he has one long-suffering employee, Bob Cratchit (Richard E. Grant), who humbly asks to have all day on Christmas off to spend with his family. Scrooge bitterly agrees, little realizing that his general nastiness that day is about to return to haunt him. Upon returning home, he is confronted by the ghost of Jacob Marley, threatening him with an eternity bound in chains of unhappiness if he does not amend his ways.

 

This of course sends him on a journey into the past, present, and future with the spirits of Christmas and sets in motion a change of heart. Since there are many adaptations of this story, what sets this one apart? Why should you choose it over all the others? It has a marvelous cast, the setting is glorious, and Patrick Stewart brings an interesting bend to the character, since he perfected Scrooge on stage in a popular one-man play. His take is unusual but the audience becomes accustomed to it and some of his acting decisions particularly in the last twenty minutes are marvelous -- one of the best scenes is when Scrooge attempts to laugh. It has been so long that he has forgotten how, and he undergoes a painful but funny series of spasms until he roars with laughter -- his relief and delight in it is catching to the audience and cannot help but make us tune in as well. I also thought the script was quite good -- it sticks for the most part to the original, fleshing out different characters and incidents where needed. The charm of Fred () and his party guests is particularly wonderful, including the courting young lovers.

 

The only negative in this production is that it doesn't quite achieve the emotional swell of other presentations and I'm not sure whose fault it is, but the loss of Tiny Tim during a plot twist doesn't really bring a lump to my throat like it does in the Muppet version. This is not a musical and it is all the better for it, although a few scenes do feel a little truncated. Some have also complained that certain of the religious aspects have been left out -- such as the Cratchit family not praying over Christmas dinner. But there is a reverence for religion in other scenes that makes up for it, and of course Tiny Tim's reminiscences about Christ healing the lame and blind are intact. I think however that the best possible casting in this is actually Richard E. Grant -- his slender form and means of shrinking inside his shoes are ideal for the character of Bob. He seems very browbeaten and humble, but quite kind and I don't think any other actor has embodied the figure quite so well. Here, we also get to see moments that are absent in other adaptations -- the bringing out of the small Christmas pudding, the romantic banter between Bob and his wife, the parlor games. It's quite lovely, and perfectly acceptable for family viewing.

 

I would only say that as this has more ghosts than usual (it includes the famous scene of Scrooge peering out his window, and seeing the sky full of ghostly forms) it may be a little frightening for very small children, but older ones and adults are certain to enjoy it. I would suggest you turn out all the lights except your Christmas tree, have a cup of hot tea or warm cider, and curl up under a blanket on the couch. That kind of romantic and slightly sinister atmosphere are ideal when indulging in this particular adaptation.