Shakespeare in Love. Finding Neverland. Saving Mr. Banks. Becoming Jane.
There lately seems to be a trend developing where we not only tell our most favorite stories, but we tell of the storytellers as well. Perhaps we’ve simply come to a point where we cherish these beloved classics so much that we want to know the stories behind the stories. Personally, I’ve not been very interested in any of them. I mean, I’ll admit to holding a secret hope for some depiction of Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, but that’s an exception because I read his biography in middle school. Perhaps, as a would-be storyteller myself, I rather shudder at the thought of how people might depict me in such a story. It inspires a feeling that is strangely embarrassing, frightening, and critical: embarrassing to have such praise and notoriety, such interest in my history and private life; frightening to have so many eyes picking over my many flaws and mistakes, so many things of which I am ashamed; critical of the inevitable errors which would be made in any such depiction of me.
So, though I was given The Man Who Invented Christmas by my wonderful mother last year, it was not until this year that I actually sat down, with some trepidation, to watch it.
…all right, all right, I admit: I loved it, and enjoyed it very much.
The story follows the famous author’s journey as he wrote what is probably his single most beloved and enduring classic, A Christmas Carol. It’s not that he simply sat down and wrote it, after all, in one God-given burst of inspiration, and everything went smoothly without so much as a bump or a ripple. No, the writing process – as any writer knows – is grueling, demanding work. The composition of prose, of putting things which did not exist onto a page where they might then exist within the mind and heart of the reader, is no easy task, not even for a master of the craft. It demands the highest activities of an enlivened mind, a disciplined dedication to the work, an eager willingness to plumb the depths of one’s very soul, and, of course, the time and energy required to sit down and write. It is among the most richly fulfilling efforts in the whole of mankind, but dang if it ain’t hard work! And that’s just the writing! There’s dealing with publishers, artists, advertisers, the audience, coughing up the cash to get started, and so much more. And all this, in the time of Dickens and all those great masters of great tales in centuries past, without the benefits of a computer or a typewriter or anything beyond pens, paper, and quills.
Oh, and then there’s all the other pressures of life: of actually being there for one’s friends and family, no matter the complications of personal issues, of dealing with critics galore whose every word can either fillet or fulfill one’s efforts, of running a household with only so much money to go around, and of being the best possible person one can be.
All of this, I will say, is depicted very well. And from what I know (and researched) of Dickens’ real-life history, they really did draw upon significant events in the actual man’s life to craft this narrative, which is no small feat. Even more, they bound them up with the creation of A Christmas Carol to craft a narrative which is both riveting and inspiring, with both author and story inspiring one another as well as the audience. That is no small achievement.
There are some liberties taken, of course. No story about someone real can ever escape that entirely. And given that Dickens himself used real people from his life, with some additions and exaggerations, to populate his stories, I imagine he would forgive the same being done with his own character, at least as far as it aids in the delivery of the story’s meaning and weight. Still, while I know everyone has their own personal demons, I doubt those of Charles Dickens were quite the same ones which this movie depicts. It leaves me slightly torn, like… would I want my real or fake personal demons shown on the big screen, and would it serve the purpose of the story?
Setting that aside, however, I find that this movie simply tickles my heart, makes me smile as I watch Dickens draw inspiration from everywhere – as he truly did and as many storytellers do – and warms my soul in a manner not too dissimilar to the story he crafted. I do prefer A Christmas Carol itself, but, well, this doesn’t fall too far behind.
And apart from the story itself – or stories themselves – a great deal of time and effort went into every technical aspect of this movie, and it shows. The sets, costumes, cinematography, music, it all works splendidly well to show us an 18th century London as well as a man who is walking through it and his dreams interchangeably as he writes one of the best stories in our history. I can have nothing but the highest compliments for such fine work.
All in all, I found The Man Who Invented Christmas to be an amazing exploration of one of mankind’s greatest storytellers, and an absolute delight to watch. Top marks, I say! Top marks!
Rating: a beaming 10 stars out of 10!
Grade: a solid A-Plus!