FROM THE BEGINNING, it was a performance piece.
A Christmas Carol was published in December 1843. By February 1844, it had three London stage productions. Charles Dickens himself did 127 readings from it.
There are more than 20 movie versions. The Wikipedia article on adaptions left out the one starring Barbie and the 2012 gay version shot in Chicago. Somewhere in this world there is a mime version starring Marcel Marceau.
Dickens was a theatrical, highly visual writer who was unafraid of emotion. Social injustice angered him. All these elements are in the book.
He knew what he had in Christmas Carol, judging by this letter to a friend (where for some reason he refers to himself in the third person):
[He] wept and laughed and wept again, and excited himself in a most extraordinary manner in the composition; and thinking whereof he walked about the black streets of London, fifteen and twenty miles many a night when all the sober folks had gone to bed. . . . Its success is most prodigious.
The first printing sold out in one day.
With Alastair Sim (1951)
This movie was rejected for a Christmas run at Radio City Music Hall because it was considered too “adult.” It did poorly in the United States, but was a hit in England. Filmed in black and white, it has a shadowy, otherworldly look.
Fan’s deathbed scene. In book Scrooge makes no promise to look after her son Fred. He is not at his sister’s side when she dies either.
What happens to Scrooge’s former fiancée. In movie she works at a homeless shelter, apparently unmarried. In book she marries happily and has a large family.
Tiny Tim. In movie he is cured of his disability. Dickens just says he does not die.
This clip shows Scrooge’s reconciliation with his nephew Fred:
With Reginald Owen (1938)
This movie was a hit in the United States, but did poorly in England.
When Scrooge gives Bob Cratchit a raise, you might wonder why he needs more money. He and his family look well fed and healthy, and their house seems solidly middle class. This infidelity to Dickens both sweetens and weakens the plot. As a poor family, the Cratchits’ goodness is heroic. When they are well off, the story turns toward sentimentality. The difference is major.
But it is a likable movie, with several fine performances. Its endurance as a holiday classic is easy to understand.
Marital status of Scrooge’s nephew Fred. In movie he cannot marry his fiancée without Scrooge’s financial assistance. In book Fred is a married man who asks/needs nothing of Scrooge.
Scrooge’s failed romance with Belle. She is not in the movie.
The children named Ignorance and Want. They no longer cling to the Ghost of of Christmas Present. Like Belle, they have disappeared.
This clip shows the Cratchits’ Christmas dinner:
With George C. Scott (1984)
This movie had a theatrical release in England, but was shown only as a TV movie in the United States. Respectful and mostly faithful, it honors the dark side of the tale as well as the light.
David Warner’s Bob Cratchit feels anger he doesn’t dare express. George C. Scott resists the temptation to overplay the big speeches.
The last scene. Tiny Tim is healed of his lameness. Dickens did not—repeat, DID NOT—ever say Tim was cured.
Scrooge conducting business on Christmas Eve. Scene where he bullies a couple of businessmen into paying a high price for a shipment of corn is a screenwriter’s invention.
The ringing bell that announces Marley’s ghost. Here the filmmakers one-upped Dickens. Dickens doesn’t use that bell to any particular effect. The filmmakers do.
The movie bell is shrouded in cobwebs. It obviously has not rung in years, if ever. Of course not—Scrooge hates people. That unused bell emphasizes his loneliness.
This clip is long—about 10 minutes. At 2:24 is the ringing bell:
What is a bowl of smoking bishop, anyway?
The drink Scrooge promises to share with Bob, smoking bishop, is made with port, red wine, sugar, spices, and roasted lemons and oranges. Here is a virtual mug of this hot, boozy drink.
If you’ve seen any of the above movies, what do you think of them? What about other adaptations?
Has anybody read the book? Amazon has a free Kindle edition.
Lindsay Edmunds blogs about robots, writing, life in southwestern Pennsylvania, and sometimes books and movies at Writer’s Rest. She is the author of a novel about love in the age of artificial intelligence: Cel & Anna.