It’s Christmas time again, and that means that the retellings of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol are all over the television! On a personal note, this is my favorite part of the television watching experience for the entire year. In fact, I will watch A Christmas Carol anytime of the year. I even acted as Jacob Marley in a school play once. I will typically use the Marley character as a guide to how good the production will be.
However, no matter how great the story is, there is an argument on which of the versions is better. The answer is: they’re all great! Yet, they all have strengths. So let’s delve into that part of this “review”.
The classic of them all would be the Alastair Sim version with probably the scariest Jacob Marley in the 1951 film Scrooge (A Christmas Carol here in the states). This version showed an elderly miser that wasn’t decrepit or near death like other versions. Instead, he looks lively and still with a few “good” years left. Let it be said now that Alastair Sim was a legend in the craft, as was Sir Michael Murray Hordern who played Marely. What this version did was show the horror of man’s actions and inactions and the consequences they had for the world. It also brought home with personal touches the idea of regret. Think of the scene of the ghosts trying to help the starving mother and her baby outside of Scrooge’s window. This scene would be in several versions and pinpointed the effect of regret.
Taking their cue from the 1951 version was George C Scott’s CBS version in 1984. This was another retelling with a talented actor, but a bit more toned down in the scares from Sim’s version. However, Frank Finely was still scary enough to spook Scrooge before bed. While the real standout in the 1984 film was the Ghost of Christmas Present. The giant of a man with almost 2000 older brothers! Played by Edward Woodward, he was the visible turning point for Scrooge. Scott did remarkable, a stoic and grumpy man that slowly turns into an approachable godfather to young Tiny Tim.
As for another stoic Scrooge, I give you Sir Patrick Stewart. A living legend and a stern faced Scrooge that struck fear into all. Fred came front and center alongside Cratchit in this version, but with a few exceptions, and while still a brilliant film, this version was much like the last two mentioned. Hearing Stewart sing and the ending scene of him opening his home the next year was heartwarming indeed. It’s the little touches that make this film shine.
Of course, it made sense for Scrooge to be seen as an elderly man in some versions and yet still sharp witted. Who better than the great Michael Caine! The Muppets Christmas Carol is a fun, musical journey for Scrooge told by Dickens himself, Gonzo, with the help of Rizzo the Rat. While a bust at the box office, this version brought levity and flare to the film at a time when the stories were becoming stagnate. The story had been told, but in the hands of the Muppets, the story could be reborn! Memorable songs and colorful scenes helped to make this version loved by generations. There was a break in the traditional tellings with Scrooge visiting Cratchit’s family on Christmas morning. This is much like the Disney version’s ending. Caine delivers a sophisticated performance and even sings a tune with Tim.
Do you want a retelling? A modern take? Then I present 1988’s Scrooged! Bill Murray’s Christmas adventure depicting Frank Cross (Scrooge) as a CEO of a TV network trying to put on a live adaption of this very story on Christmas Eve. Come on, Buster Poindexter is the Ghost of Christmas Past and that is enough to give this film a 10 out of 10! Comedy gold is assured with Murray, Carol Kane and Bobcat Goldthwait and Wendie Malick. Hell, Robert Mitchum shows up! Where other versions focused on being a better man, this one did too, but also on finding hope and love. That’s where Karen Allen shows up. Scrooged is a story about a man being reborn full of hope, happiness and love!
Last, we have the newest entry. You wanted modern, right? Yet still traditional? Then I give you FX’s A Christmas Carol. This 2019 film stars Guy Pierce playing a younger and worldly Scrooge. This Scrooge cares for money sure, but he also wants to see humanity suffer if he feels they deserve it. It’s hard for him to see the good in people because this Scrooge has seen some rough stuff and he carries it with him. However, Mary Cratchit, Bob’s wife, who will do anything for her family. She’s also got some otherworldly powers and if you’re paying attention you’ll see it. This version focuses on redemption but not in the usual sense, saying one night is not what it takes, but instead it will take a great deal of effort. Featuring an all-star cast, this version provides not only a modern feel to the humanity of the story but also a much needed back story into the workings of Scrooge and Marley. Here you see how Scrooge made his money and how he and Marely cheated sellers, neglected their mines, employees and factories. You grow to hate this Scrooge, feeling he deserves it, while still hoping for him to see the error of his ways. Be prepared for a tougher story to emerge.
And there you have it, the quick analysis of A Christmas Carol just in time for the Holidays.