Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 28, 2018)
Virtually no holiday story gets more play every year than Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. If you ever wondered how that tale came to exist, 2017’s Ths Man Who Invented Christmas offers a look.
Set in the 1840s, writer Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) finds himself in a slump, as his last few works flopped. With little money available and debts on the rise, Dickens encounters potentially desperate times.
Determined to lift himself out of his financial and creative concerns, Dickens decides to write and self-publish a Christmas tale. As he digs into this task, his estranged father (Jonathan Pryce) and mother (Ger Ryan) come to stay, a development that complicates his endeavor and threatens its success.
At the onset, I posited that Man would appeal to those who wondered about the circumstances that led to the creation of Christmas Carol. Do I count as a member of that club? Not really, but I like “behind the scenes” sorts of information, so I figured Man might deliver an enjoyable experience.
Alas, such hopes don’t really come to fruition. While Man musters a modicum of intrigue due to its premise, the end result lacks cohesion.
Tonally, Man hops all over the place. It goes from melodrama to farce to sentiment without a lot of logic, and all these shifts leave it without a unified feel.
Much of the time, Man comes across as little more than an alternate way to retell Christmas Carol. Maybe that’s not a terrible idea, as we’ve seen umpteen variations on that story over the decades, but this one really doesn’t work, partly because it tries to have its proverbial cake.
In other words, Man wants to be a docudrama while it also embraces the story and spirit of Carol. It doesn’t pull off these attempts, so it becomes muddled and inconsistent.
Man does come with a nice cast, but Stevens’ campy performance as Dickens leaves me cold. Though he feels a little more grounded as the film goes, he seems too silly and broad most of the time.
None of these factors make Man a poor film, as its basic premise musters a modicum of entertainment value. However, the execution remains inconsistent, so it fails to coalesce into a strong movie.