I recently shared with The Manoverse my favorite film adaptations of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. In the process of producing that piece a few things became clear. First of all, there has been no perfect version of the story made for the big screen. Older movies leave too much out in an effort to be “family friendly”. Newer attempts lean toward either animation or modernization of the story so that it isn’t really a straight-up translation but something that is merely inspired by the Dickens book. Few have had well-known stars in lead roles. Secondly, some of the better takes on the story have actually been made-for-television movies. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think A Christmas Carol deserves a faithful, big budget, live action film with all the bells & whistles…a star-studded & talented cast, superior production values, a top shelf director, and Oscar buzz. Hollywood specializes in remakes, right?? They remake classics that didn’t need remade like Footloose, The Poseidon Adventure, Halloween, The Karate Kid, Arthur, The Pink Panther, Miracle on 34th Street, & Psycho, as well as movies that few gave a darn about in the first place like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Red Dawn, Total Recall, Robocop, & The Manchurian Candidate. But while all these lukewarm pieces of crap litter our cinemas the fact is that a non-gimmicky big screen adaptation of A Christmas Carol hasn’t been made in over 60 years. It’s time for that to change.
First though, there needs to be a few rules. This would be a live action film. No animation. As much as I like The Muppet Christmas Carol and the 2009 Jim Carrey motion capture movie that kind of thing isn’t what I’m going for here. Besides, it’s been done and probably can’t be done much better. This would not be a musical. I’m not necessarily anti-musical, although they aren’t really my thing. However, making a Carol musical is just another gimmick that has been done so there’s no need to go there. This would be an authentic version of the novella. Too many films leave things out, add things in, change names for no apparent reason, gender bend, & make other unnecessary alterations. I am by no means a film production or screenplay writing expert, but I don’t see why it’d be so difficult to translate a hundred page novella into a two hour movie without pointless modifications. And finally, the cast would be comprised completely of British actors & actresses. Charles Dickens was British. A Christmas Carol is set in London. Scrooge, Marley, Bob Cratchit, & all the other characters are British. I don’t care how talented Tom Hanks, Leonard DiCaprio, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey, or Meryl Streep may be…they are American and should not star in A Christmas Carol.
I’ve given a lot of thought as to who the director should be, and while I do not have an encyclopedic knowledge of every filmmaker out there and all of their work I do, as a movie fan, have a passing familiarity with many of the more prominent modern auteurs and their styles. In pondering the issue one name kept creeping into my mind…Peter Jackson. Jackson, of course, is best known for spending most of the past 15 years bringing author JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit to life on the big screen. I believe he could make the kind of epic version of A Christmas Carol that I envision, and he could do it while showing immense respect to the source material. He has the skill to capture the dark tone of much of the story while infusing the film with lighter moments that’d make an audience smile. Jackson isn’t British and prefers to work in his native New Zealand, but I am confident a solution could be negotiated in which most of this movie would be shot in London. Hopefully he wouldn’t try to make A Christmas Carol into a trilogy.
Now…onto the main cast…..
As mentioned I believe that this needs to be a strictly British group. As much as I love Robert Downey Jr. it bothers me tremendously that he has portrayed Sherlock Holmes on the big screen. Do you realize that America’s most beloved trio of superheroes…Batman, Superman, & Spiderman…have all most recently been played by three British actors (Christian Bale, Henry Cavill, & Andrew Garfield)?? It’s not that these capable performers have done a bad job. Bale, in particular, was quite good in his role as The Caped Crusader. I just think that it takes a contemporary moviegoer, with all we know about the moviemaking process due to The Internet and other accessible & informative technologies, out of the realm of fantasy & imagination when we know “Hey…that dude is using a fake accent!! He’s from another country!!”. I am only mildly neurotic and most of my fixations are kind of trivial…this just happens to be one of them. Fortunately there is a plethora of very gifted British actors to choose from and I think we can put together the best cast of any A Christmas Carol adaptation ever made:
Ebenezer Scrooge – Daniel Day-Lewis
Lewis, with his three Oscars for Best Actor, adds instant gravitas to our film. To be honest I am not a huge fan of most of his work. His movies just aren’t my thing. However, I did enjoy his performance in 2012’s Lincoln in which he was mesmerizing as our 16th president. Dickens describes Scrooge as having “old features”, a “pointed nose”, “thin lips”, & a “wiry chin”. He is generally thought of as skinny, which makes sense since he only eats “a small saucepan of gruel”…a porridge/oatmeal type of substance typically eaten by peasants…for supper. Lewis fits the bill physically and at 57 years old the transformation into an elderly miser wouldn’t be all that difficult.
Bob Cratchit – Simon Pegg or Martin Freeman
I would be fine with either of these two gentlemen in the role of Scrooge’s overworked & underpaid clerk. Bob is married and has 6 children, the eldest of whom is said to be an apprentice at a milliner (hat maker) shop. This means she is probably a teenager, which puts Bob somewhere in his 30’s or 40’s. He is generally depicted as a mistreated milquetoast who doesn’t dare challenge his nasty boss Mr. Scrooge, but then when he gets home is a devoted father & husband who tries to make the best life possible for his family despite a decided lack of resources. Pegg is best known as Scotty in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot films, while Freeman stars as Dr. Watson in the British television update of Sherlock Holmes and as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit trilogy. Both actors could portray the lighthearted, doting, & generally content Cratchit while not ignoring the underlying pathos present in a character who is abused at work, is very poor, and has a young son on the verge of death.
Mrs. Cratchit – Emily Blunt
This is a relatively minor role. Mrs. Cratchit is Bob’s supportive spouse who nevertheless isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade when it comes to Ebenezer Scrooge. She appears to be a traditional wife & mother who loves her family, but with just the tiniest bit of spunk. Blunt isn’t as well-known as she probably should be due to her eclectic career choices, having done a whole spectrum of movies from rom-coms to action-adventure to drama to Shakespeare…few of them being all that great or profitable. She may be a tad young to play a mother of 6, but I think she could pull it off and add some much needed refreshing beauty to what can largely be a bleak story.
Jacob Marley – Alan Rickman
Marley, as you’ll recall, is Scrooge’s business partner who is “dead as a doornail”. He shows up in ghost form to tell Scrooge how he has completely screwed up his entire life and to warn him of the impending visit of three spirits. It is a relatively small yet vital role. Rickman is best known for playing bad guys like Hans Gruber in the original Die Hard and, more recently, Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. Marley isn’t necessarily a bad guy I suppose. It seems that, when alive, he was as much of a ruthless & greedy businessman as Scrooge, but now he is a sad & pathetic figure, doomed to roam the Earth in the afterlife bearing the burden of the chains that he forged in life. He is in only one scene, but it is important and sets the tone of the entire film. Anyone who has seen Rickman’s work knows that he could pull off the scary spectral figure of Jacob Marley.
Fred – Benedict Cumberbatch
Fred is Ebenezer’s nephew and the antithesis of his grouchy uncle. He is friendly, jovial, & full of Christmas spirit. He genuinely cares for his uncle and continues to attempt to have a relationship with him despite Scrooge’s perpetual rejection. Cumberbatch has seen his career trajectory rise exponentially since playing Sherlock Holmes in the contemporary BBC television show, but it seems like he is often cast as the villain otherwise. He played Khan in 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness and voiced the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit trilogy. I think it would be interesting to see him go against type and play a cheerful & approachable character. This is another small but key role, and Cumberbatch would undoubtedly be a tremendous addition to the cast.
Tiny Tim – unknown British child
I don’t know enough about child actors in general, let alone specific British child actors, to pull a name out of the hat. However, I will opine just a bit. We don’t know exactly what disease young Tim suffers from, but we know that he will die without proper treatment which Bob Cratchit cannot afford to provide, and that he walks with the aid of a single crutch. Tiny Tim should be portrayed as a loving child with a positive attitude and faith in God. At one point in Dickens’ novella it is said that Tim “hoped the people saw him in the church because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.” However, I believe it is unnecessary and counterproductive to have Tiny Tim be an incessantly jolly child. That is just annoying and does the story no favors.
Fezziwig – Robbie Coltrane
When Ebenezer Scrooge was a young man just starting out in the business world he worked for Mr. Fezziwig, who we can assume was in the same “money-lending” profession as his young apprentice. Fezziwig is portrayed as the kind of employer we all wish we had, a kindhearted man who has his priorities straight and treats people with warmth & respect. He is generous, loyal, & presumably successful. Fezziwig’s benevolence is a stark contrast to Scrooge’s malicious attitude and serves to show us who Ebenezer could have and probably should have become had he allowed Fezziwig to be more of an influence in his life. Coltrane is best known nowadays as the gregarious Rubeus Hagrid in the Harry Potter series, and he immediately sprang to mind as I pondered this role. In addition to Harry Potter, Coltrane has been in a couple of James Bond films as well as forgettable movies like Nuns on the Run, Message in a Bottle, & Van Helsing. Fezziwig is another brief but vital part in a story that seems to be full of them.
Young Scrooge – Daniel Radcliffe
The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Ebenezer Scrooge back in time to a few significant moments in his life, one of those being when he was a young man just beginning his career and facing the choice between love and professional achievement. Radcliffe, of course, is best known for his role as the titular character in the mega-successful Harry Potter series, and I think he vaguely resembles a young Daniel Day-Lewis. It is tempting to overlook such a small role in what I visualize as a grand film, but I believe it would be a mistake to cast a marginal talent in the part. This is when we see who Ebenezer Scrooge used to be and gain some insight as to what went so terribly wrong. It is a turning point, and a youthful but skilled actor like Radcliffe adds credibility that lets critics & audiences know that this film is legit.
Belle – Carey Mulligan
If you meet a man who is cynical, angry, bitter, & kind of a jackass there is a good chance that there is a woman somewhere in his past that is partly to blame. Okay okay okay…I’m kidding…sort of. At any rate, Belle is a young lady that Scrooge meets at one of Fezziwig’s Christmas parties. They fall in love and become engaged. Eventually Belle breaks up with Scrooge because of his obsession with money. Remember, The Bible says in 1 Timothy 6:10 that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”. While Scrooge goes thru life brokenhearted & lonely Belle eventually finds love again, marries, and has a happy life with several children. Mulligan is best known for her roles in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and as Daisy Buchanan in the 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby that starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby. She is quite fetching but also tough, like the kind of person who wouldn’t hesitate to kick her fiancée to the curb when he becomes selfish, greedy, & narcissistic.
Christmas Past – Tilda Swinton
Dickens describes The Ghost of Christmas Past thusly: “A strange figure—like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white; and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.” It is further said that “its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.” Various adaptations have shown Christmas Past as an angelic female, an elderly man, & an “androgynous” figure of unspecified age. The 2009 Disney motion capture film comes the closest to bringing Dickens’ unique vision to fruition. Obviously with CGI we could do something similar even in a live action movie. However, I think what might work best is a combination of computerized magic and a performance by a real actress. Swinton not only has a unique look, but she is another Academy Award winner to add to our fully loaded cast.
Christmas Present – Sir Anthony Hopkins
Dickens describes The Ghost of Christmas Present as “a jolly giant” clothed in a green robe with white fur and sitting upon a throne of various kinds of food (yum…my kind of throne!!). Most films represent the spirit fairly accurately. However, many don’t present the events of the story faithfully. Christmas Present takes Scrooge into the streets of London on Christmas Day, to Bob Cratchit’s house, to see a poor miner’s family celebrating in their little shack upon a lonely moor, to visit two men keeping watch in a lighthouse, out to sea where the crew of a ship (possibly a fishing boat…the book doesn’t specify) is quietly remembering Christmas amongst themselves, & to his nephew Fred’s house where he and a group of friend’s are making merry. For some reason the visits to the lighthouse, the miner’s shack, & the ship are often left out of A Christmas Carol movies. We would not allow that in our version. Christmas Present also reveals to Scrooge two “wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable” children hiding under his regal robes named Ignorance & Want. It is a disturbing scene rife with social commentary and is too often left out of movies. Not this one though. At any rate, when pondering the casting decision my mind immediately fell upon Academy Award winner Sir Anthony Hopkins. We associate him most with the role of evil Hannibal Lecter, so I think it would be really interesting to see him instead play a character that is ebullient & gregarious. Christmas Present ages as the night goes along, and we undoubtedly could pull that off as well.
Christmas Yet to Come – Andy Serkis
Dickens describes Christmas Future as a “draped and hooded” phantom “shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand”. Essentially it is The Grim Reaper, and almost all film versions of A Christmas Carol depict it as so. The spirit doesn’t actually speak…it just points a lot and acts menacing. This is a tough one from a casting standpoint, but I immediately thought of Andy Serkis. That name might not ring a bell because he isn’t a well-known actor in the traditional sense. His specialty is giving voice and physicality to computer generated characters like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the titular character in King Kong (a lukewarm 2005 film directed by…Peter Jackson). We could certainly go the CGI route here, but I think Serkis’ unique talent adds a level of je ne sais quoi that would elevate our movie to another strata.
Ideally this film would be released in early December so that it could be enjoyed by audiences looking for some holiday cheer at their local cineplex in the midst of their Christmas shopping. Hopefully it would get lots of love from Hollywood during its awards season. What do you think?? Do we need another A Christmas Carol movie?? Did I do a good job of casting?? Does this look like a film you might be tempted to check out?? As always your comments & feedback are welcome. Merry Christmas Manoverse…and God bless us everyone!!