The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017): A Film’s Depiction of Charles Dickens’ Internal Struggles and Family Life
2017’s The Man Who Invented Christmas was a rather tasteful story combined with mild yet professional, colorful cinematography. The acting of the performances was top notch in nearly every department, starring Dan Stevens (recognizable from his role as Beast in Beauty and the Beast) as Charles Dickens himself, “the man who invented Christmas.” Jonathan Pryce (Elizabeth’s father Weatherby Swanson in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) gives his take on John Dickens, Charles’ father.
Another notable and key role in The Man Who Invented Christmas is Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music) as Scrooge. Yet other noteworthy performances include those on the parts of actor Justin Edwards and actress Anna Murphy. This movie presented an intriguing depiction of a specific period in Dickens’ life, that of an artist who is threatened by poverty. He needs to make a living doing what he is passionate about.
Yet, his publishers don’t like the sound of his new novel idea. So he sets about trying to self-publish this short work, eventually entitled A Christmas Carol, the beloved classic of holiday literature. He also struggles with channeling his creative workflow and in meeting a self-appointed deadline for the book’s completion.
Unfortunately, for quite a while, it seems through a series of life events, the daunting stress of his project, and personal, hidden past experiences reemerging in his memory and affecting his emotions. In addition, Charles Dickens, as any fine writer might, begins to experiment with the characters he wants to include in his story, frequently talking to them out loud as if they were as real as his wife, children, or friend John Forster.
In fact, many of his closest friends and companions along this journey inspire his characters. A good writer organizes his experiences and often finds something on which to jot down seemingly random tidbits of information. In the case of Charles Dickens, we see him writing down unique names, those of real people he meets in chance day-to-day meetings, to eventually be employed in one or another of his books.
In the book Charles Dickens, the Last of the Great Men, another literary genius G.K. Chesterton simply states “…Dickens liked quite ordinary things; he merely made an extraordinary fuss about them. His excitement was sometimes like an epileptic fit…” (93). This characteristic sounds a bit eccentric, but then all great creatives are. This frenzied aspect of Dickens’ personality is quite conspicuous in the film which seems appropriate. On the screen, all Dickens has to do is take a walk about town at night to get half the inspiration he needs for A Christmas Carol, so much is he influenced by the everyday occurrences which he otherwise is seldom conscious of.
Again in turning to Chesterton’s work on Dickens, his life, and his mentality, we get a glimpse into John Dickens, the father of the renowned writer. Of this figure in Charles Dickens’ life, Chesterton writes, “It required a tragedy to bring out this man’s comedy. So long as John Dickens was in easy circumstances, he seemed only an easy man, a little long and luxuriant in his phrases, a little careless in his business routine” (24). This certainly fits the description of the aged John Dickens whose presence initially puts a burden on his son in the film. Based in part on the historical events of Charles Dickens’ early life, the movie depicts his father being taken to jail when Charlie is quite young.
The result of the “bread-winner” being removed was that Charlie had to go to work in a shoe polish factory at age 12. It was this period in particular which leaves a scarring memory in the writer. And it is this kind of imagery which haunts him in the flashbacks in the film.
Of course, Dickens’ life is filled with the ups and downs such as those we all experience. He experiences turmoil within his family, primarily with his father because of his past. Charles Dickens has his book to finish and his own household and children to look after. So it is stressful. But he has warm moments which friends and Tara who admires and sometimes critiques his writing. And his wife also breaks the news to him that she is pregnant, the blessing of another child is on the way. Charles is happy, but he needs to get to work. But writing a good book takes time, effort, and thought.
In The Man Who Invented Christmas, we get to step into Charles Dickens’ fascinating, sometimes hectic, yet rewarding life. We experience his charity as well as his eccentricity. Despite historians having lambasted some of the events or situations seen in the film, it nonetheless delivers an enjoyable, entertaining story. (A Hollywood picture is not going to perfectly depict history in its strictest reality.) For anyone who has read A Christmas Carol or watched one of the many film adaptations, this movie will be all the more intriguing.
Chesterton, G. K. Charles Dickens, The Last of the Great Men. The Press of the Reader’s Club, 1942.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published here on Of Intellect and Interest’s native website.