I was interviewing Miami's Books and Books owner in his flagship store in Coral Gables, across from Coral Gables Art Cinema. Mitchell Kaplan and I were talking about the Miami Book Fair, which he co-founded, when he happened to mention that he was co-producing a movie that would open just before Thanksgiving.
“The Man Who Invented Christmas" fit the bill for Mazur/Kaplan, the company he created with Hollywood producer Paula Mazur. Their mission? To turn literary properties into films.
The movie, now in theaters, was adapted from the non-fiction book by Les Standiford, about Charles Dickens and the heckuva time he had creating "A Christmas Carol," which would become the Christmas tome for all time.
Charles Dickens, played with vigor and verve by Dan Stevens, is a hit writer. Consider him a rock star of the 1800s. He's had bestsellers, and, when the film opens he's triumphantly made a visit to the United States, where fans are clamoring to see the famous "Oliver Twist" writer.
A year later, he's in London, fountain pen in hand and a blank sheet of paper. Yep, writer's block. He's over his head in house debt – an interior designer keeps adding to his woes with some over-top-chandelier he's hanging. He's had an advance from publishers, and his nicer-than-he-oughta-be book agent is his biggest cheerleader. But it doesn't look like old Chuck is going to have a hit anytime soon.
There's also the subplot of Dickens' personal problems, wrestling the demons of his father (wonderfully played by Jonathan Pryce). Seems the boy was sent away to a bootblacking plant because of his father being arrested for not paying his debts. There are skeletons of his own past looming in that factory. When Pops shows up at the house unexpectedly, its not what you'd call a good family reunion. Alon with other discoveries, Charles finds out the man's been selling his autograph. This adds to the drama, but it also helps wrestle a book out of the writer.
Not much has changed for writers since the 1800s really. Dickens works at home, and his children and family are a distraction. And depending on finances from a creative entity, well that's a struggle, for sure.
The prize here is Stevens as Dickens. He's hyperenergetic, and, well, acts the dickens out of Dickens. The story is entertaining, too, as Dickens' characters come to life with the indomitable Christopher Plummer as Scrooge, and the other Christmas ghosts that appear to help the author write his story. There are a gaggle of imaginary townspeople that egg the writer on, and inspiration for the famous Tiny Tim, taken from Dickens' sister's kid. A crabby waiter at the local men's club named Marley provides another character – well, you know how that turns out.
The addition of an Irish housemaid (Anna Murphy) as his muse, also adds some marital tension. Dickens' wife (Morfydd Clark) feels like a mistress to her husband's work, and now he's taken the housemaid under his wing. Bah, humbug.
Touted in some ways as a family movie, "The Man Who Invented Christmas" could be, but it's a little too deep for the younger crowd, who may grow bored with the adult troubles in life – job, marriage, finances. As a film, it's wonderfully directed by Bharat Nalluri, who adds the same sensibility he did with “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day."
"The Man Who Invented Christmas" should become one of those holiday classics that becomes a must see. It certainly can fit in the Christmas movie canon with no trouble.