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Film: A Christmas Carol

11 December 2020

Stephen Brown enjoys the visual spectacle of Scrooge’s latest return

Ghosts’ dance in A Christmas Carol

Ghosts’ dance in A Christmas Carol

GIVEN that there are more than 200 film and television English-language versions of Charles Dickens’s most famous Christmas story, you would think that there couldn’t possibly be another remake. Then along comes 2020’s A Christmas Carol (Cert. PG). Even so, this one is rather different. Amid the straightforward retellings, there have been also musicals, animations, and Muppets, but, as far as I know, never solely dance.

Perhaps owing something to Northern Ballet’s stage production, it then takes off in new directions. A Victorian family prepares a toy theatre based on the story, which turns into a set where dancers illustrate scenes, while actors do the voice-overs. Scrooge is performed by Michael Nunn, while Simon Russell Beale supplies his dialogue. We hear Martin Freeman as Bob Cratchit while we watch Karl Fagerlund Brekke on screen. It is a conceit that works well enough, and there is plenty of music to accompany the choreography and speech.

Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol

Whether dialogue adds new dimensions to this oft-told tale is a moot point. If anything, the words get in the way of feelings. Left to their own devices, the dancers weave a spell, rich in pathos and social criticism that is still relevant to our society, in which many go hungry. Admittedly, there are moments when Dickens’s words seamlessly match the danced action. The whirling steps that Scrooge’s nephew takes around the old miser while his voice partner speaks of Christmas as a time of forgiveness and generosity are a perfect complement.

One may wonder why Dickens set this particular story at Christmastide when many of his books question the scourge of poverty without appealing to Christianity for support. With never a mention of the incarnation, angels, shepherds, stable, Magi, or Holy Family, it could be mistaken for a secular humanistic treatment of the festival. But this is not so. Impatient of ecclesiastical politics and theology, Dickens’s firmly held Christian belief majored on church members’ following the example of Christ. The love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control of Galatians 5.22-23 are at the heart of A Christmas Carol. As such, this new film is a song of praise for Ebenezer Scrooge’s deliverance from self-imprisonment. Moreover, the book’s musical allusions are plainly set out with chapters called staves and hints that our oldest carols were to be danced to. In this film, the directors David and Jacqui Morris tacitly acknowledge that movements in space presage movements of the spirit.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

The various ghosts of Christmas are seen here both as dreadful warnings and harbingers of hope. Nevertheless, in this version at least, Scrooge’s change of heart seems more attributable to fear of an imminent lonely death than embracing the new-found joy of generous outreach. Rather like George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life, he is desperate to live again, no matter what cost to himself it involves. Whatever his motivation, though, he is soon revelling in the delight of loving companions.

In this allegory of redemption, we hear Scrooge say “I’ll try and live Christmas every day of the year.” Clearly, he isn’t just talking about turkeys and plum pudding. It is literally about taking steps in the right direction, making each morrow his dancing day.

In cinemas only.

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