“I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
Their faithful Friend and Servant,
The 170th anniversary of Charles Dicken’s classic Christmas tale has just passed, and there have been hundreds of versions of it produced in that time. Everyone from Alastair Sim to Jim Carrey, Patrick Stewart, Albert Finney, Bill Murray, Mr. Magoo, Scrooge McDuck, and Michael Caine (in the Muppets version) have played the main character, miserly Ebinezer Scrooge. It took Dickens just 6 weeks of intense writing to finish his little ghost story, but it’s one of the most adapted stories of all time.
“Marley was dead: To begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that…”
To celebrate the 170th anniversary Neil Gaiman recently dressed up like Dickens and read the story to a crowd at the New York Public Library. You can listen to it here.
My fav version of it comes from Britain, 1984. A television production (tho it did play in theaters in Britain), it stars the awesomely talented George C. Scott as Scrooge. If ever there was a person born for a role, this was it. His Scrooge is a miserable, gruff, stingy old bastard, but not a monster. Not a caricature or a cartoon, like many performers fall back on. Scott’s Scrooge seems real, acts like a person with Scrooge’s past would act, like a very shrewd (and heartless) businessman.
The supporting roles are all also fantastic, featuring a bunch of talented British character actors lead by David Warner (one of my favs) as Bob Cratchit. It also has Donald Pleasance’s daughter Angela as the ghost of Christmas Past, Edward Woodward (who got immolated in The Wicker Man) in a booming performance as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Frank (Lifeforce, The Deadly Bees) Finlay as Marley, and one of Tim Burton’s regulars Michael (The Horror of Dracula, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Alfred in Batman (1989)) Gough in a small role.
The production is lush, with a lot of atmosphere and period feel. You can almost smell the roast turkey and the smoke from the last burning embers in the fire in Scrooge’s workplace. Feel the biting cold and snow. They don’t shy away from getting creepy when it’s called for (after all, it is a ghost story), and the special effects are pretty good for it’s time and budget. I’ve always been a sucker for a movie with great atmosphere.
The thing I like best about it is that it follows the book closer than any other version I’ve seen. Most everyone knows the plot- Ebinezer Scrooge is a miserable old miser who thinks that love, sentimentality, and Christmas are a waste of time and money (“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every 25th of December”). His one assistant, Bob Cratchit, has a large family including a sickly and disabled son, Tiny Tim. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marley with a warning- change his ways or he’ll pay in the afterlife. He is then visited by the spirits of Christmas past, present, and yet to come to help illuminate his choices, mistakes, and possibilities.
In this day and age, Scrooge would probably be considered a great businessman hero, and have his own show on Fox News. Fortunately in the days this was written charity was viewed favorably and greed looked down upon, so the story comes to a satisfying conclusion. It is a classic tale, and this version of it is told and performed perfectly. Seek it out for your Christmas viewing pleasure.