There have been numerous versions of “A Christmas Carol” that have been performed on stage and screen, but the 1984 television movie, at least from all the productions I’ve seen, remains my favorite. Ebenezer Scrooge, brilliantly embodied by Oscar winner George C. Scott (Patton), is a cantankerous miser. He seemingly views everyone, especially those individuals filled with the Christmas spirit, with disdain. While most people he encounters are consumed with the holidays, his single minded focus is on business. No one, it appears, is able to break through his tough mental veneer of loathing for Christmas. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred Holywell, played by Emmy nominee Roger Rees (The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby), the only son of his deceased sister, Fan (Joanne Whalley), invites his uncle to Christmas dinner. Scrooge not only declines the invitation, but makes biting comments about it. Furthermore, while he reluctantly gives his good natured employee, Bob Cratchit, a role acted by Emmy winner David Warner (Masada), Christmas day off from work, he insists that Cratchit arrive even earlier than usual the following day.
After leaving his financial firm, for the day, Scrooge stops by the commodities exchange. While there, he insists that the men he does business with pay him more money for corn, than the price he had quoted them the previous day. He also scoffs at the idea of giving money to charity. Scrooge not only rebukes the chance to do a good deed, but states to Mr. Hacking (John Quarmby), and Mr. Poole, played by BAFTA winner Michael Gough (The Go-Between), that the taxes he pays should be enough to care for the indigent.
Later that same evening, Scrooge is visited by the startling apparition of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, portrayed by BAFTA winner Frank Finlay (Othello). Marley, who is weighted down by thick, heavy chains, has found no peace in the afterlife. He warns Scrooge that he will suffer the same fate if he doesn’t change his ways. In addition, he informs Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts: The Ghost of Christmas Past, who will arrive at 1:00am. At 2:00am, he will be visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present, and at an unknown time, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Throughout the evening, the ghosts stick to the missions of their respective titles, taking Scrooge on a journey, which runs the gamut from his youth to the current day. Unbeknownst at first to the cynical Scrooge, who believes he is suffering from a nightmare brought on by something bad he ate, this is his last chance to alter his own bleak future. (As an aside: The Ghost of Christmas Past is played by Angela Pleasence (Happy Valley). Golden Globe winner Edward Woodward (The Equalizer) portrays The Ghost of Christmas Present). Michael Carter, performs the role of The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come).
I remember taking a class on the works of Dickens when I was in college. During a discussion pertaining to “A Christmas Carol,” one of my classmates asked the question: Why was Scrooge given a second chance, but not Jacob Marley? The film, while not specifically addressing Marley’s not being offered a chance at redemption, does put forth the reasons why Scrooge was given one last chance to change the course of his life. In the film, a younger version of Scrooge played by Mark Strickson (Dr. Who), is shown to have gone through situations that understandably made him bitter: The withholding of his father’s (Nigel Davenport) love; also, the death of his older sister, the aforementioned Fan, who loved him, and whom he loved; additionally, but perhaps most importantly, when he lost Belle, the love of his life. In the movie the character is portrayed by Golden Globe nominee Lucy Gutteridge (Little Gloria…Happy at Last). From Scrooge’s own admission, he should have gone after her and expressed his feelings. I didn’t answer my classmates question at the time, but if asked again, I would state that Scrooge is worthy of a second chance. The reason, because in his past, he had demonstrated the capacity for love. He had lost his ability to love, as well as show compassion and empathy for others, a number of years prior. If, however, he allowed himself the opportunity to change, he could find it again. In my opinion, the ghosts, while they detest the man Scrooge has become, offer him a second chance, because they know that he has allowed his true self to remain dormant since the emotional pains of his earlier life overwhelmed him.
“A Christmas Carol” was directed by BAFTA nominee Clive Donner (Rogue Male). The screenplay adapted from the Charles Dickens classic was written by Emmy nominee Roger O. Hirson (The Adams Chronicles). The original title of Dickens novel was “A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.” The novel was published by Chapman & Hall on December 19, 1843, and featured illustrations by John Leech. The made for television movie was first released theatrically in the UK on November 23, 1984. Parts drama, family, and fantasy, it has a runtime of 100 minutes.
Trivia buffs take note: The Ebenezer Scrooge headstone used in the television movie can still be seen at Saint Chad’s Churchyard in Shrewsbury, England. The production crew never removed it after filming commenced. The name ‘Scrooge’ is taken from the verb meaning ‘to squeeze.’ This version of “A Christmas Carol” was not the first that director Clive Donner had worked on. He was the film editor on the 1951 film, which starred BAFTA nominee Alastair Sim. Actor Michael Carter, The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, is perhaps best known to Star Wars fans for his portrayal of Bib Fortuna, in “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.”
If a viewer is particularly jaded, and overlooks the time period in which the television movie was made, that person would consider the special effects lacking, but that, as far as I’m concerned, would be on them. Scott, as mentioned earlier, makes for a phenomenal Scrooge, and the cast members, in general are excellent in their respective roles. The cinematography by BAFTA nominee Toni Imi (Enemy Mine) does a wonderful job of capturing the Dickensian landscape. The music by BAFTA winner Nick Bicât (Carrie’s War) synchs up perfectly with what is transpiring on screen, and especially during some of the darker scenes gives the viewer a real sense of foreboding. If you’re a fan of the story, and haven’t seen this version of it, I would highly recommend you watch it. I don’t believe that you’ll consider it a waste of your time upon completion.