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“The Man Who Invented Christmas” blends fact, fiction and fun!

Updated: Apr 17, 2018


Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens and Christopher Plummer appears as Scrooge. (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)


Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD; 2017; PG for thematic elements and some mild profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube and Vudu

Best extra: Only one; “The Story Behind ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’”

THERE’S one major problem with writing a bestseller.

Writing another one.

Even the biggest names in fiction have trouble, and so did Charles Dickens after the unqualified success of his “Oliver Twist.” “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” directed by Bharat Nalluri (“Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”), begins in “October 1943, sixteen months and three flops later,” as Dickens struggles to make ends meet.

He’s got a huge household: four young children and one on the way, a major and expensive renovation going, lovable but needy parents who continue to arrive uninvited, and a writer’s block that shows no sign of lifting. Any creative-type can emphasize. The script is by Susan Coyne (“Mozart in the Jungle”) from the nonfiction book by Les Standiford.

Dickens is aching for a new idea and money. When his publishers balk at the idea of a Christmas story, he takes off in a huff and borrows even more cash – at a 25-percent interest rate – to self-publish in six weeks. What follows is a race for inspiration in which characters physically materialize as ideas spring up. (Fiction writers may recognize the process.) Christopher Plummer appears as Scrooge. He is so good, we can’t help but wish for another film version of “A Christmas Carol” with him in the lead.

Nalluri’s fast-paced film excels at depicting the fiction writing process, but issues arrive over its blend of fact and fiction, and insistence on contemporary reactions in Victorian times. References to Dicken’s other works are a delight for those who know him. Bemoaning his career choice, he wishes he’d become a lawyer, and is reminded of one of his more famous lines: “The law is an ass.”

So, while fact frequently blurs, the entertainment level remains high. Finding names for his characters – like Marley from an ancient waiter – to famous quotes – “If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population” – create a bond between film and viewer.

Much of the fun comes from Dan Stevens’ (“Downton Abbey”) performance. His Dickens is a man of two very different personalities; loving friend and father, and frenzied bully lashing out at those who interrupt his writing and a father who let him down.

The script presupposes we’re all familiar with historical fact; that people were thrown into prison because of debt, while their families – including small children – were left to fend for themselves. That we’ll know who Thackeray is and why he was important. (That’s William Makepeace Thackeray, thank you, known for his satirical works, especially “Vanity Fair.”) Most importantly, that Christmas was not the popular holiday it is today.

We can thank the Victorians for that. Previously, Christmas was celebrated like New Year’s Eve; it was an opportunity to get drunk. Then the royal couple, Victoria and Albert, began the tradition of decorated trees, yule logs, stockings and other imported pagan traditions. Clement Moore penned “The Night Before Christmas,” in which Saint Nicholas rewarded good children instead of Krampus beating the bad ones. But the heart of the holiday was established through Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and its plea for compassion for all, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

Universal’s 1080p picture (2.40:1 ratio) is a Yuletide delight, with bold, bright color and consistently fine detail in sets and costumes. With its warm palette, film grain, and extreme contrasts in light – from streaming sunlight to pitch black ruins and graveyards – “The Man Who Invented Christmas” maintains a cinematic look throughout, yet loses nothing of its digitally filmed sharpness.

Audio arrives through an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The blend of dialogue, immersive effects, and score by Oscar winning composer Mychael Danna (“Life of Pi”) are well balanced.

Sadly, there is only one, short bonus feature. “The Story Behind ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’” is strictly PR. That’s a shame because there’s so much one could fill in about Dickens, his times, his work, and the evolution of the Christmas celebration.

Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” was a groundbreaker; a film about its creation is all but a sure bet. Stevens and co-stars Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Justin Edwards, Morfydd Clark, Anna Murphy and others pour on the charm and the cheer. “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is satisfying family entertainment at any time of the year.

- Kay Reynolds

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