*Spoilers ahead* (although I must admit, I would be shocked if you did not already know the plot)
Another year, another adaptation of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.
Ordinarily, such news would be accompanied by an eye roll, or a sarcastic comment about the seeming lack of originality in modern film plots. However, in a year where regular life has been completely upended by the Covid-19 pandemic, a remake like this instead feels like a sliver of normality – normality that has become increasingly rare to find.
It would also be unfair to say that this adaptation is similar to the ones before it. Apart from the same original source material used (of course), this adaptation differs in its ability to expertly marry together the stage with the cinema, the theatrical with the fantastical, and the set with the camera. In short, this take on A Christmas Carol is a perfect crossover between a play and a film – something that the brother-sister director duo Jacqui and David Morris have deliberately chosen to do. This is in homage to both mediums of entertainment that mean so much to them personally, and that have been affected so greatly by the virus and the ensuing measures tackling the pandemic.
The film begins simply, as we are transported to the living room of a Victorian family. Three children are playing with a miniature replica of a theatre, before being joined by their mother, father, and grandmother. As they gather together, the grandmother begins to narrate Dickens’ timeless story to the rest of the family. Whilst this is happening, the audience are invited into the imagination of the youngest child, where we see frozen dancers come to life in a Victorian street setting on screen, using fluid and graceful movements.
The old familiar characters of Ebeneezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and the others are soon introduced to the viewer; interestingly, the Morris siblings have chosen to incorporate two people for the same role, with one as a voice actor and the other appearing as the on-screen dancer. For instance, Scrooge is voice by Simon Russell Beale, while on screen he is portrayed by Michael Nunn and Jakub Franasowicz. Some famous names also appear on the cast list, even if you can’t see them on screen – Martin Freeman voices Bob Cratchit, Andy Serkis voices Marley’s Ghost, Daniel Kaluuya voices The Ghost of Christmas Present, and Carey Mulligan voices Belle (the lady Young Scrooge was once in love with).
The combination of the dancers on screen with the voice actors expressing their dialogue allows the audience to suspend their disbelief and become drawn into this imaginative and dark universe. It feels as though you are being taken on the most immersive theatre experience in the world, not only because of the way in which the characters are portrayed, but also in the way that the set has been designed. Footlights can often be seen in each shot, but particularly so in the scene where Marley’s ghost confronts his old partner. Having not stepped foot in either a theatre or a cinema for a heartbreakingly long time, it felt almost bittersweet to notice such details – as though you are at once being reminded of all the wonderful times you watched a play or a film, whilst simultaneously becoming aware of all the plays and films that have been delayed or placed on hold this year.
The music in A Christmas Carol certainly deserves recognition, as the soundtrack perfectly heightened each and every scene in a subtly understated but powerful way. The scene where Marley’s ghost haunts Scrooge is made all the creepier as you become aware of the faint singing in the background – familiar Christmas hymns that many of us grew up with are composed and sung in different keys whilst classical instruments provide soft accompaniment, creating an overall effect that is haunting instead of expectedly jolly. In a later scene between Young Scrooge and Belle, the soft piano and gentle strings from a violin created such depth that I thought my heart could just melt in my chest from the tenderness and love that I felt. Truly, the music was an excellent addition and is one of the things I remembered most about this adaptation.
However, naturally there were also some less than amazing parts of the film. Being an adaptation means greater expectations from the viewpoint of the audience – combine that with a story that so many know and have grown up watching, and that expectation more than doubles. By sticking with the Victorian setting, this retelling of A Christmas Carol doesn’t really seem to add anything that hasn’t already been done before. Another fact is that, despite the emphasis on the characters of the grandchildren at the start, this adaptation is darker and not suitable for children – meaning that it loses the charm and comfort of family-favourite adaptations such as The Muppet Christmas Carol.
Overall, this is a take on the classic tale that succeeds where other adaptations failed. By introducing an immersive experience of the theatre and combining it with the strengths of cinema, this version may prove to be popular this Christmas as people who have been starved of such forms of entertainment seek out as many of these mediums as they can find. And with a year that has been as tumultuous as 2020, perhaps what we need is the comforting familiarity of a well-known tale combined with the intriguing excitement of a fresh twist.
It’s enough to make anyone go from “Bah, humbug” to “God bless us, everyone!”
A Christmas Carol will be released in select cinemas from 4 December.
Words by Yasmin Bye
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