Friday, December 14, 2012

A Christmas Carol (1984)

Premiered December 17, 1984

This feature-length made for tv adaptation was filmed entirely in Great Britain,  mostly in the town of Shrewsbury.  It is a very faithful adaptation of Dickens' novella for the most part.  The cast includes a host of notable actors including George C. Scott as Scrooge,  David Warner as Bob Cratchit, Edward Woodward as the Ghost of Christmas Present,  Roger Rees as Scrooge's nephew, Fred Holywell/the Narrator,  Susannah York as Mrs. Cratchit,  Frank Finlay as Jacob Marley,  and Joanne Whalley as Scrooge's sister, Fan.

Scrooge shoves caroling children out of his way
This version is notable for its attention to early Victorian period detail.

Some things that are different from other adaptations:
* We learn a bit of backstory for Scrooge and his father in this version (i.e., that Scrooge's dad is named Silas and that he bears Ebenezer a grudge because his mother died as a result of his birth).   None of these details appear in the original story.

Old Scrooge observing his younger self and his father

*  Nephew Fred is given a surname,  Holywell ("holly-well" - get it?)  that is not in the book.    Fred is also, apparently, an early adopter of the Germanic Christmas tree in this version.  (Christmas trees weren't really popularized in England until about 1846 when a sketch of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their family gathered around a Christmas tree was first published.  A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843, you will recall.)

Fred & Scrooge on Christmas Day, note the Christmas Tree in the background.

* There is a scene where Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present observe a homeless family sheltering under a bridge and worrying how they will survive that is not explicitly in the book.  It is used to underscore the cruelty of prisons and workhouses at the time and the way families who were forced into these institutions would have been separated from one another.

* Ignorance and Want, the scrawny child symbols lurking under Christmas Present's robes,  are featured in this adaptation.  They appear in the original story, but are often left out of the film versions.

RigbyMel says:

This is the first live-action version of A Christmas Carol that I can recall seeing as a child.  We watched it on television at my grandparents' house probably in the year it premiered (although it might have been a year later as this was re-broadcast a couple of times after its initial airing).    It is wonderfully well acted and I find the period verisimilitude quite appealing.   I also love the fact that in addition to having the expected 19th century "Christmas card" scenes, this version of  A Christmas Carol  emphasizes that this is a GHOST STORY and that there are horrors inherent in the festive season for the less fortunate.  (This is an aspect  that I feel often gets missed out in adaptations of the story.)   All four of the spirits that visit Scrooge are appropriately scary/creepy in their own ways.

Christmas Yet To Come's dramatic entrance
Tiny Tim is a difficult character to play as he is more of a symbol of "every sick and suffering child" than a fully fleshed out personality, but young Anthony Walters delivers a fine performance that is sweet without being saccharine.

Anthony Walters as Tiny Tim
I also find it interesting that the kindly Bob Cratchit is played by David Warner, an actor who often plays rather more devilish sorts of people, but he does a great job with the character.

David Warner as Bob Cratchit
George C. Scott makes a fine, understated Scrooge, I particularly like his smirking delivery in the scene with his nephew near the beginning of the film.

"If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart!"
Additionally, Scrooge's redemption at the end is believable and earned in the hands of such a capable actor.

Scrooge will dine with Fred and Janet on Christmas after all.

I think Edward Woodward's performance as the Ghost of Christmas Present is rather brilliant - he manages to communicate both the jollity and the occasional edge of this spirit very well.

"Come in and know me better, man!" 
As a fun bit of trivia,  I am delighted to report that you can still visit "Scrooge's grave" in the churchyard of  St. Chad's Church in Shrewsbury where the pivotal scene with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come was filmed.  The production crew left the prop gravestone on the grounds where it remains to this day.

Scrooge's "grave" in Shrewsbury
This adaptation still packs an emotional punch for me  - I am not sure if it is because of the quality of the presentation, my early acquaintance with it or a bit of both.    To my mind, this version of A Christmas Carol does a fantastic job of capturing the spirit (pun intended) of Dickens' story and is required annual holiday viewing.

RigbyMel's rating:
4 candy canes (and a rousing "God bless us, every one!")

Scrooge greets carolers on Christmas Day & gives them a donation.

 J.A. Morris says:

Unlike my co-blogger, this was not my introduction to A Christmas Carol, I'd seen about 3-4 adaptions already. 

The Phantom Hearse.

But I remember when this first aired on CBS in 1984.  It arrived with lots of fanfare, it was a Holiday television "event".  I enjoyed it way back then and it's still one of the best adaptations. 

Scrooge with the Ghost Of Christmas Past (Angela Pleasence).

It's been on tv one place or another ever since (it's airing on AMC several time before Christmas) and is available on dvd and blu-ray.  It's worth watching if you haven't seen this excellent adaptation.

Scrooge mbraces Tiny Tim:"To Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father."

I can't add a lot to more to what RigbyMel said, this is a classic adaptation of A Christmas Carol and it's highly recommended. 

J.A. Morris' rating:
4 candy canes.


bga said...

This is a very true representation of Dickens' work.

Mabel said...

This one is my favorite. It scared me silly as a kid (I always appreciated the English tradition of ghostly tales at Christmas, heh heh). And I like that Ignorance and Want are in it--that's the creepiest part of the story, I think. :)

RigbyMel said...

Hi Mabel! This is probably my personal favorite adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" too. Ghost stories really ought to be creepy, and this version strikes a nice balance of historical verisimilitude, spooky and festive. :-)
Many thanks for taking the time to read and comment!