Film Review – A Christmas Carol (2020)

The release of what is billed as a “radical re-imagining” of A Christmas Carol may be perfectly timed.

The lifting of lockdown doesn’t necessarily mean it’s back to some semblance of normality for everybody. Live entertainment has suffered more than most and, while some theatres are tentatively opening their doors, many remain closed with seasonal audiences having to look elsewhere for their pantos and Christmas shows. So the release of what is billed as a “radical re-imagining” of A Christmas Carol may be perfectly timed.

Not that we don’t know the story – there are more versions than you can shake a humbug at, from animation to comedy, from musicals to The Muppets – all about the miserly Scrooge who has his cold hearted attitude to Christmas completely changed. It’s all down to three spirits who show him the error of his ways in the past and present and how he can prevent the future being equally bleak. The original Dickens story is something of a classic, embodying the true spirit of the season, so taking a new approach requires a brave and confident hand. Credit, then, to director Jacqui Morris and screenwriter David Morris for having the nerve to give it a try.

Despite being shown in cinemas, this is essentially a stage performance brought to the big screen, a Christmas entertainment mixing modern dance with graphics based on Boz-style illustrations (Dickens’ frequent collaborator) and celebrity voices such as Simon Russell Beale, Martin Freeman and Carey Mulligan speaking the actual dialogue. A curious combination, and one that’s only successful in parts so to call it radical is an overstatement. The look is decidedly theatrical, with the dancers weaving in and out of sets often composed of Victorian style cut-outs and, while they look awkward on the cinema screen, they’re certainly attractive and help to evoke the atmosphere of the period.

What is less successful is the portrayal of the characters, with the silent dancers having their lines – often taken directly from the original – spoken by the impressive cast of acting talent. Only one of them ever appears in front of the camera, Sian Phillips at the grandmother who also acts as the story’s narrator, but it makes us yearn to see what Simon Russell Beale would have made of Scrooge had he played the part in full. His wonderful voice gives us an idea and there’s no doubt it would be something to see, but we never get the chance. Martin Freeman’s Bob Crachit is another – it’s a great piece of casting and, while his voice acting in the sequence presented by the Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come is heart breaking, it just accentuates that we’re missing out yet again. It’s not the dancers’ fault – some of them are striking, particularly Mikey Boateng’s sexy Ghost Of Christmas Present – but he especially is sold short in the depiction of the two children that keep him company. They’re too angelic for words, a million miles away from Ignorance and Want.

As Christmas entertainments go, this A Christmas Carol is more traditional than it likes to believe and, even though it’s clearly made with families in mind, younger audiences might find its solemnity too much like hard work. Even the famous Fezziwigs’ Christmas party is sadly lacking in joy and, while at its heart this is a serious morality tale, its moments of genuine happiness and warmth are sadly subdued to match the tone of the overall piece.

★★ 1/2

Fantasy | Cert: PG | Munro Films | 4th December 2020 | Dir. Jacqui Morris | The voices of Simon Russell Beale, Daniel Kaluuya, Carey Mulligan, Martin Freeman, Leslie Caron, Andy Serkis.