The Man Who Invented Christmas

If Al Gore is the man who invented the Internet, than it’s possible that Charles Dickens is The Man Who Invented Christmas, with all due apologies to Santa Claus and the birth of Christ.

Of course, the title of this speculative historical drama isn’t meant to be taken seriously, and neither is the film itself — a supposed chronicle of the creative inspiration behind the author’s A Christmas Carol that feels considerably more embellished than authentic.

It takes place in Victorian-era London, with Dickens (Dan Stevens) under pressure to regain his popularity after following his smash debut, Oliver Twist, with a handful of flops.

Haunted by a series of nightmares involving a greedy miser named Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) with a contemptuous view of the working class, Dickens sets out to craft a novella that would both heal socioeconomic strife and rekindle the spirit of Christmas in Britain.

Along the way, he confronts some inner demons while enduring some of the same spiritual crises as the fictional character he chronicles. However, he needs to get the book into stores before Christmas to ensure it will reach the masses. As he races toward his deadline, the question remains: Do his motives spring from genuine holiday cheer or financial opportunism? It’s probably both.

The film essentially is a Dickens biopic that offers flashbacks to his troubled blue-collar upbringing with his now-estranged father (Jonathan Pryce), as well as how his workaholic habits distance Dickens from his pregnant wife (Morfydd Clark).

The brainstorming process might not be very cinematic, although director Bharat Nalluri (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) incorporates some stylish period touches, while Susan Coyne’s script provides a glimpse into the nature of literary fame well before an era of movie stars or viral videos.

Even if it lacks meaningful insight into the creative process, the idealistic film celebrates the power of imagination and inspiration. Like the novella, it promotes optimism while dismissing cynicism — an attitude that the ghosts of adaptations past would share — while prompting the same lessons about seasonal kindness and generosity.

Yet by comparison, The Man Who Invented Christmas simply doesn’t convey the same intimate charm, and it would benefit from a more subtle approach (and less grating score). The classic story of redemption still resonates, but in this case, the author is less compelling than his characters.


Rated PG, 104 minutes.