A Christmas Carol (2019)
A greedy miser is visited on Christmas Eve by 4 Spirits with the hopes of changing his soul for the better.
Based on the book by Charles Dickens, each production has the same basic story structure: Ebenezer Scrooge is a cranky miser who mistreats everyone, especially his single employee, Bob Cratchit. Bob is a kind and loving man with a large family, who has a sick child and no money to get him the medical attention he will need to live. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley, wrapped in the chains he forged by with greed in life, warns Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits who will attempt to redeem him from his miserly ways. Scrooge is then taken on a journey to view his past, his present and his impending doom in the future. Through the course of the story, he learns what love of life really means and what a family truly is and the devastation of loss. But in the end he repents and becomes the most generous man London has ever known.
The 2019 BBC three episode television series (Shown on FX in the US) attempted to update the plot to appeal to a wider audience. Although the story remains basically intact, there were some drastic changes made to raise the stakes and to darken the characters. The story is still set in the mid-1800s Victorian England, but the idea of basic greed being the root of all evil, may not seem “Evil” enough in today’s capitalist mindset. The idea that a man who loves wealth above all other things just seems commonplace for today’s audiences.
To fix this, the production embellished a bit. Scrooge was no longer just a lonely boy, but a broken boy who was sold by his evil father to be knowingly molested by the headmaster of the boarding school Scrooge attended. Scrooge was unaware that he was rescued from his torturer by his gun wielding sister, Lottie. Scrooge never recovers from this and never really finds love, which is a huge deviation from the source material. There is a brief mention and photo of Scrooge with his ex-fiancé, but we do not see how they met, how they loved or how it ended.
In another embellishment, Scrooge and Marley are the owners of a mine which collapses killing several people. The two owners were too cheap to invest the money to use proper timber for the support structures even after being warned. Their greed literally caused the death of many men.
Even more of a twist, seven years in the past, Cratchit’s son needs an operation to survive, they do not have the money. Mary Cratchit, unbeknownst to her husband, begs Scrooge for the money. He propositions her, telling her that he will give her the money, if she will meet him on Christmas day, alluding to wanting sex. She agrees and is sickened by what she is willing to do to save her child. When the time comes, Scrooge explains that he doesn’t want sex, he just wanted to see what her “virtue” would cost. It was an experiment.
Several characters have also been modernized. Scrooge is portrayed as irredeemable and even says as much. Bob Cratchit is no longer the loving simple man who just wants to save his child, but a bolder more complex man. The three spirits are also much darker. Christmas past, an older man with little compassion or warmth. He appears as several different characters from the past such as Ali Baba and a miner during the mine collapse. The Spirit of Christmas present is the ghost of his dead sister. She is full of warmth and love for her brother, but still with an edge of darkness. Finally the future spirit, an older gentleman in top hat, but with his mouth sewn shut, as no man can be told what the future truly holds.
My feelings on this version are very complex. I love the classic story. I have seen most versions, have worked on several stage productions and have read the book (albeit nearly 35 years ago). I found this version a fascinating character study and it is truly interesting to see how a story can change to match the current mentality of its time.
First the good: The production value on this series is wonderful. The direction, the music and the settings were all very well done and added to the darker, spookier atmosphere. The cast was exceptional. Guy Pearce as Scrooge was amazing, portraying Ebenezer as an OCD inflicted character whose past horrors broke him forever. Joe Alwyn is the best looking Cratchit I have ever seen, and his scenes in the beginning show a complexity rarely scene in a production. Vinette Robinson as a tortured Mary Cratchit was stirring. Her pain is palpable as you watch what lengths she would go to for her child. Andy Serkis as the Ghost of Christmas Past, plays the part with a flair that we have come to expect from him. Stephen Graham as Marley is also very well portrayed especially during their final scene together. The look and feel of this television series was very well thought out and for what they were aiming for they hit it out of the park.
Now for the Bad: The changes to the story itself lessen the impact that it has. The story is a bit too dark and gritty. With several expletives thrown in, hints of sexual molestation and improprieties this is not a family friendly version of the classic. Scrooge went from being greedy to being truly evil. Because of this, the change in him at the end is diminished. The ghost of Christmas Past lost a lot of impact being portrayed without warmth or compassion. There are several missed opportunities as well. The Spirit of Christmas present being Scrooge’s own sister and yet we do not get the classic scene of Scrooge watching his Nephew and his wife on Christmas Day. What a wonderful scene that could have been, to see Lottie watch her grown son one last time. This could have bridged the gap for the abrupt connection Scrooge has with Tiny Tim at the end. I felt that Scrooge’s change hinging completely on Tiny Tim’s death seemed a bit rushed.
From one to five on the “Humbug” scale (1 being Terrible and 5 being amazing) I give it 2.5 Bahs!
This was a wonderfully done production, but the changes to the core of the story were too much for me. As a dark character study and a reflection of our time, it was fascinating, but at the end I did not feel goodwill toward my fellow humans.
A Christmas Carol (2019): Bah Humbug!
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 7/107/10
Acting - 10/1010/10
Music - 10/1010/10
Production - 10/1010/10
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