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Blogvent Day 20 – A Christmas Carol (1984,USA)

20/12/2011

Director: Clive Donner              Starring: George C. Scott, David Warner, Edward Woodward, Roger Rees

The fourth outing for A Christmas Carol in Blogvent 2011 and again, this is one of the superior versions of the story and, perhaps not as coincidentally as it may seem, another made for TV version. Much like the Patrick Stewart version which I talked about a few days ago, this version seems to take enormous pleasure in its attempts to faithfully recreate Dickens’ story for the screen, pleasure that I share unreservedly.

This time we have the wonderful George C. Scott in the lead role (sporting a pair of the finest looking sideburns imaginable, probably fake although I wish/hope they were real) with a very flinty, even tempered take on the old skinflint Scrooge and he is supported by a pretty strong cast of ancilliary characters. David Warner puts in a fine performance as Bob Cratchit, his is perhaps the best of the onscreen Cratchits I’ve seen. Sure there are my usual gripes about the stilted child acting (people seem to cast Tiny Tim on the basis of looks rather than ability) but these are more than amply compensated for by the loveliness of everything else. There’s even a small role for the stunning Joanne Whalley as Scrooge’s little sister Fan which is lovely, even if it’s extremely short lived. The highlight for me in this version though is Edward Woodward’s Ghost Of Christmas Present.

For me, the story is all about the Ghost Of Christmas Present. It’s one thing to remind Scrooge of the fun he used to have or to fill him with fear for how his life will end but it’s through showing him how his actions are impacting on the real, living, breathing people in the here and now, how those without his means succeed in being happier and more satisfied with their lives than he is that the real change occurs in Ebenezer’s icy soul. The Ghost Of Christmas Present, despite seeming to be the most jovial of the spirits, is the one who is most brutal to Ebenezer, throwing back in his face the cruel platitudes he uttered at the beginning of the story once the realisation begins to dawn on him on just how much suffering there is in the world, suffering Scrooge has the means to alleviate.

Woodward’s performance here is brilliant (it also seems to form the basis for the Patrick Stewart version’s GOCP) warm and jovial initially but giving way to a more stern, brutal, uncompromising spirit in order to hammer his point home to Scrooge. The way Scott plays this segment is a little bit out of line with the book and other versions of the tale, his Scrooge remaining resolutely reluctant to accept any responsibility for the suffering of others in the present. Despite seeing the misery faced by the Cratchits (for example) he persists in rationalising away his own part in their plight, much to the annoyance of the Ghost Of Christmas Past. It’s a bit of a deviation from the story as Dickens wrote it, Scrooge by this point in the book is more than ready to repent for his own sake but the spirits are insistent that he must change for other people’s sake too, but it works well enough in the context of the film.

I watched this version on blu ray and frankly I’m astounded by how beautiful it looks. Made for TV it might well have been but it seems to have been shot on film and the blu ray transfer is lovely, really picking out the detail of the impressive sets and locations. It’s really not the kind of film that I would normally bother with on blu ray but I’m glad I did as it is further evidence of how even the most unlikely films can look stunning on the format.

As far as screen versions of the story go this is one of the best although it’s not perfect. There are a few tweaks to the story which alter Scrooge’s character slightly, making him less tragic than he is in the book, less of a victim of his own offences as he should be. There are definitely elements of this film that could be considered more or less definitive but, as usual, I’d like to patch them together with elements from other versions to make a perfect film version of the book.

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