Dan Stevens cannot charm this film out of its self-made dreariness, but does at least make it reasonably bearable to watchRHOMBUS MEDIA

As of late, there seems an inexplicable fascination in both writer’s block and the creative process more generally. Indeed, it almost seems that filmmakers, running dry of ideas, have decided to depict their angst on the screen, here in the embodiment of Charles Dickens. How this plays out, however, is the effervescent Dan Stevens in Victorian garb dashing about a rose-tinted set while bumping into the ‘real-life’ incarnations of his best-known characters. One soon comes to realise they would be much happier watching yet another adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

“The sort of ‘historical bullshit’ that has come to dominate the modern silver-screen biopic”

This film-that-never-was flits in and out, often into Dickens’s own writing room, with these glimpses preventing anything coherent being established. Christopher Plummer’s Scrooge is incongruously smiley, delighting in Dickens’s frustration as he stomps about throwing gobbledegook into the wind. Despite being onscreen throughout, he feels distractingly underused, merely regurgitating lines that are scribbled down furiously beside him.

It is as though screenwriter Susan Coyne wants to spoonfeed the audience doses of references that even one unfamiliar with the novel could recognise – Bill Patterson pops up to deliver some of the beloved miser’s dialogue, a half-dead waiter’s name is Marley, the loan clerk has a safe covered in chains etc. etc.

Trailer for The Man Who Invented ChristmasYOUTUBE

Two films are then played at the same time, being the fabricated story of Dickens’s family and that of the book he is writing, and Coyne seems to have thought it ever so clever to merge the former with the protagonist of the latter. This leads to gloomy scenes in workhouses with atrocious, albeit thankfully minor, child actors, in which Dickens confronts the Scrooge-like features of his own being - features he simply did not have.

And yet, as his wife points out in a bizarrely teary speech, he is a character impossible to pin down or know what mood he is in, going from starry-eyed hero and defender of the innocent poor, to a monstrous patriarch that lends books to maids he later dismisses (the scandal!). It creates the image of a man that never was—the sort of ‘historical bullshit’ that has come to dominate the modern silver-screen biopic, and the very thing that will go down well with the free cup of tea and a biscuit.


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Nevertheless, it is Christmas, and the film serves up lashings of spirit and warmth that occasionally hit the spot. The (adult) cast is also largely excellent, with Simon Callow on typically bonkers form, and Jonathan Pryce providing a touching father-son thread that, had the domestic drama been the sole focus of the film, could have blossomed into a heartfelt Dickensian fable.

More could have been made of Miriam Margolyes’s maid, especially in the comic relief that is hinted at, but never developed to laugh-inducing lengths. Alongside Mychael Danna’s pathetic plonking score that swells around them, the sickliness of its treats too often become an irritant to the palate.

The trailer for The Man Who Invented Christmas (it really is an absurd title) was reminiscent of home videos one might make on an iPad on a boring afternoon. It provided a hackneyed-nutshell version of the end product, which might have been made with a handheld on a snowy morning. There are worse films one can watch at this time of year, although it would seem that this would have been better suited to a Boxing Day airing on ITV, cut off around the 60-minute mark—or, probably even better, not bothered with in the first place

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