Originally published December 8th, 2014
I was wary of watching any versions of A Christmas Carol this year after I did an entire month of various adaptations for my old podcast. Let’s just say after you watch four of those in a row you get bored with the story. Interestingly, in looking back on that grand adventure I noticed I didn’t watch the version commonly called “the best;” the 1951 British version starring Alastair Sim (that goes under the title Scrooge internationally). I decided to give this one a go and I can understand why it’s the de-facto version of the story. It’s dark, gritty, pulls no punches, and presents the story as Dickens wrote it (aside from a few minor changes). If you don’t enjoy the Dickens story you’ll be bored regardless, but thanks to Sim as Scrooge, and the film’s desire to be as straight forward as it can be it does present the grandest version of the classic Christmas tale.
Do I really need to give a plot summary? Okay, I will. The miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (Sim) is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve with the hopes that they will persuade him to change his ways.
This version of A Christmas Carol is an incredibly cut and dry adaptation, which will probably make this a rather brief review. The story is presented as is, with no modernization, or major deviations from the story. The only change is in presenting a cyclical nature to events through Ebenezer’s past. It’s said that his mother died while having him causing his father to be estranged from him, and that his beloved sister Fan (Carol Marsh) died giving birth to his nephew Fred which causes Scrooge’s estrangement from his nephew. In the original tale Scrooge was not the youngest, and there was no revelation of how his sister died. I do think it’s a smart change as it allows greater depth into Scrooge’s mentality. His own father lost interest in him after the death of his mother, so it would only make sense for Scrooge to lash out at the person who unintentionally took his own mother figure away. The rest of the story is presented as we all know it and it is a brief film at only 86 minutes. I did love the opening which includes the actual dialogue from the novel.
As I mentioned in my reviews of Little Women, the story is so well tread that the actors really have to step up their game. Thankfully, Alastair Sim is a phenomenal Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s as genuine in his disdain as he is in his joy at the end. Sim is not an A-list actor and his appearance is rather shocking. I hate to compare the two, but Sims big eyes almost make him Gollum-like in appearance which naturally pushes the audience away from him. When he does go through his transformation, turning into a child content to pull the covers over his head, you pity him for the defeated creature he is. Upon waking up on Christmas morning his joy is almost frightening as he starts giggling, and singing. It’s hilarious to see him utterly terrify his maid. The rest of the acting is suitably good, although none of the other actors have to carry the weight of the film like Sim.
The only issue with this film has to be in the ghostly effects. The ghosts of Christmas past and Jacob Marley (Michael Hordern) never seem to be inhabiting the same space as Scrooge, and due to how the effects were achieved they weren’t. There’s a noticeable distance between the characters that feels disconnected to everything else. It’s a minor quibble considering how frightening the ghost sequences themselves are. The scene of Marley clanking his chains and screaming is particularly unsettling. The same with the presentation of all the lost souls in the street that is eerie and haunting.
This is probably the shortest review I have particularly because A Christmas Carol is such well-worn property. This version doesn’t seek to show a star-studded or pretty version as other films do, and it is the best of the lot (next to Mickey’s Christmas Carol). It’s a cold, haunting film that will scare you as well as make you appreciate Christmas.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.