My favorite book is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I wrote about how much I love this book in a post last year. Those of you who have been reading the blog for that long (thanks!) might recall it! This year, I was chatting with my friend Cameo about Dickens and all of the many film adaptations of A Christmas Carol. She suggested I watch a few film versions and give a verdict on which one was the ‘best’. I thought it was a great idea. So for this, the last ‘Friday Finds’ of the year, that’s exactly what I’ve done.
My very unscientific way of picking these three adaptations that I’ll be reviewing was, quite simply, that I’d heard more than one person mention this film as their ‘favorite’ version. I also chose them because they were readily accessible for me watch, and because they all come from different decades. These are only three film versions of the book but of course there are many hundreds, maybe thousands, of stage plays, musicals, movies, cartoons, both loosely and closely inspired by this classic Christmas tale from the 19th century.
What makes a good adaptation in general is up for debate. But, in my view, the best adaptations capture something of the spirit of the original (in this case literally haha…get it? Spirit? That’s a terrible pun I feel like Dickens would appreciate). When I say ‘capture the spirit’, I mean, they recreate some of the general attitude, vibe, tone, and, perhaps most importantly, the themes of the original story. This is more important to me than the plot. A lot of books (not A Christmas Carol, but other books) are quite internal and characters spend a lot of time just thinking. But thinking is very boring for us to watch on screen. So often the job of someone adapting is to make things more external (through dialogue etc). Other things to consider might be compressing or cutting characters for clarity, making things more visual etc. I did my whole undergraduate dissertation on film adaptations of Thomas Hardy novels, so it’s a subject I’m interested in and I don’t think there’s one right or wrong way to move a book from the page to the screen. Some adaptations even attempt to subvert, tweak, change or comment on the original, rather than being straight up ‘faithful’ to it – so there’s lots of ways you can go! All of the adaptations I watched were good in different ways. No stinkers here!
So here are the three adaptations of A Christmas Carol that I watched, with a mini review of each. I then gave them a score (out of 10) for #1 Fidelity to A Christmas Carol? (aka how much do I think it ‘stayed true’ to the tone, emotions, themes of Dickens’ original) and #2 How good of a movie is it overall? (aka, apart from A Christmas Carol, if I didn’t know or care anything about the book, how much would I like this movie? Does it stand on its own?). I’ll then add those two scores together and the highest will be crowned ‘The Best Adaptation of A Christmas Carol’. Is this system needlessly complicated? Sure! But it’s Christmas so why not go all out?!
Adaptation #1: Scrooge, release date: 1951, starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge
This one was available on YouTube and you only have to read the comments to see that it’s beloved by many. I will say it’s definitely the darkest version I saw. It’s quite shadowy visually and the ghosts are straight up spooky! But, if looked at a certain way, this is a scary story about a man literally confronting his demons. So I like that they leaned into the scariness of it, since most productions make it more kid friendly. But, controversially, I didn’t love Alastair Sim. I think he seemed too sweet from the beginning, he just seemed lovable and goofy all the way through. I like my Scrooge super bitter, gruff and nasty to start and I feel like he seemed too endearing throughout. BUT I liked his manic happiness at the end. They do take some liberties with the plot and add a few new scenes, but all of these build on material in the book, more or less, and still feel rooted in the original story. I didn’t like how in this version Scrooge’s old love, after they break up, becomes basically this saintly lady who helps the poor. In the book, if I recall correctly, she marries someone else. I feel like this stings more, and this film’s version, of her as this saintly nurse, feels too saccharine even for Dickens. But it does still show the plight of London’s poor, which is a major theme in the book so…it works on some level. This one didn’t blow me away, but I liked it and especially the visuals in it. Really effective.
Faithfulness to A Christmas Carol: 7
Movie overall: 8
Adaptation #2: The Muppet Christmas Carol, release date: 1992, starring Michael Caine as Scrooge
I love puppets. Jim Henson and his company are magicians as far as I’m concerned. I’m currently obsessed with Farscape, which is a lesser known sci fi TV show made by Jim Henson’s company. I don’t have any particular affinity for the muppets, although of course I’m familiar with them. But this film was amazing!! It had both my mom and I smiling from ear to ear the entire time. It was so full of clever and witty puppet antics, and also really educational for children (it reminded me of Wishbone actually…), as Gonzo, who plays a sort of narrator, gives context about Dickens. This one is fantastic if you’re looking for a fun and family friendly version, with bright, happy music and a tremendous performance from Michael Caine. Caine is my favorite Scrooge I’ve ever seen: he’s low-key menacing at the start and then really tender at the end. His performance made me cry. The death of the frog puppet Tiny Tim made me cry. It was also quite true to the book. It nails it. I have nothing bad to say.
Faithfulness to A Christmas Carol: 9
Movie overall: 10
Adaptation #3: A Christmas Carol: The Musical, release date: 2004, starring Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge
This version is probably the least well known of the three I picked, but I chose it because it was my favorite growing up. This is a darling little adaptation, with fun performances from Jason Alexander (of Seinfeld fame) as Marley, Jane Krakowski (of 30 Rock, etc.) as a kind of Tinkerbell-like Ghost of Christmas Past, and Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge. Lots of TV people basically. This was a made-for-TV movie I believe. It’s full of good dancing, catchy tunes and one of the main innovations, which I love, is that the ghost actors are double cast: so they play both the ghosts AND someone in Scrooge’s neighborhood who Scrooge is mean to at the start of the movie. This works because the ghosts make Scorrge look outwards, to the people of London, so why not suggest that the ghosts actually ARE those people? The ghost of Christmas past, for example (who is depicted in the book as having a flame coming out of its head), is portrayed here as a lamplighter. So clever! This version is solid and enjoyable, with excellent faithfulness to, and engagement with, the original. If you like musicals, it’s one to see.
Faithfulness to A Christmas Carol: 9
Movie overall: 7
And the winner is…The Muppet Christmas Carol!!
Congratulations to Kermit and Miss Piggy! Of course I only judged three versions, and there are many left out. What about the Jim Carey animated version? What about Bill Murray’s Scrooged? So many I didn’t see. What is your favorite version of A Christmas Carol? Do you have any other holiday themed entertainment you return to each year, Christmas or otherwise?
I hope you enjoyed this unique type of festive post and wishing everyone a happy holidays and a happy new year. I’ll be off until after the new year, so before I go I just wanted to say that I appreciate you reading this blog and hope that it has provided some useful recommendations as well as entertainment throughout 2021. It’s been a hard few years for the world, and there are many challenges ahead, so I hope it’s provided, most of all, fun – whether you read every post, or just dip in and out every so often. I appreciate you! Have a great start to 2022!