This afternoon I went to see “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” about how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol. I’m glad I ignored the mixed but generally mediocre reviews: I loved the movie.
It’s the second one I’ve seen recently about how a writer overcame inner obstacles and found the inspiration to create their best-loved works, classics that have lasted for generations. In Good-bye, Christopher Robin, A. A. Milne was blocked by PTSD. Dickens was blocked by three successive “flops” (the word used in the movie, although etymology dictionaries – I looked it up – say the word did not mean “failure” until 50 years after the events of the movie). Each man had lost the confidence to continue to write. Each man eventually found the spark that became their books.
What I enjoyed most about The Man Who Invented Christmas is what many critics, professional and lay, disliked: the weaving of reality, fantasy, dreams, flashbacks. But these scenes seemed to me to be a perfect visual metaphor for the writing process. Like Dickens, my characters speak to me, tell me what they want to happen. Dickens laments, as he is stymied about how to end the story, “My characters won’t do what I want!” He also is an observer, telling a friend “I am working,” when it appears that he is aimlessly wandering around a crowded market; but he is actually observing, eavesdropping, jotting down unusual names, finding material to incorporate into his story. And every writer can empathize with his despair at the sight of a blank piece of paper, although these days it’s more likely a blank computer monitor.
The cast was quite good. Dan Stevens as Dickens acquitted himself well against such seasoned actors as Christopher Plummer (as Scrooge) and Jonathon Pryce (as Dickens’ father). And I always enjoy character actors Simon Callow and Miriam Margolyse. It was also fun to see Annette Badland in a small background role as the jolly Mrs. Fezzywig, a departure from the only other roles I’ve seen her in, as an alien bent on world domination in “Doctor Who” and as the nasty Aunt Babe in “EastEnders.” (I’ve noticed that I am much more familiar with contemporary British actors than I am with American ones.)
The movie will not lose much on the small screen, but was definitely worth the price of the movie ticket.