Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Christmas Favorite: A Christmas Carol

Marley’s Ghost.
Image from 1843 edition of A Christmas Carol, illustrated by John Leech
Source: British Library via Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain

On 19 Dec 1843 noted writer Charles Dickens novella A Christmas Carol was published by Chapman & Hall. The book came at a time when Christmas was fading but at the same time people were rediscovering Christmas traditions and exploring new ones (such as Christmas cards and Christmas trees). The story relates how Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly man, who receives the ghost of his dead partner along with Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. The visitations changed Scrooge into a warmer, forgiving man and the book sold out all its initial copies on Christmas Eve.

The story has become a favorite at Christmas time owing to its theme of transformation. While some academics argue about whether his story was secular or a religious allegory, the story alludes to a higher power at work to help Scrooge reflect on his life and to make changes. Scrooge shows everything wrong about the age-of acquiring money for its own sake and nothing else. He showed no empathy nor compassion for the plights of his fellow men and women wanting only to increase his wealth at the expense of others. One can be lulled into thinking though that Scrooge is just a two-dimensional character at first. As the story progresses, we learn of his early years, his being at school alone, of his lovely sister who brings him home, and the joy of working with old Fezziwig. And then he changes, slowly but steadily into the man we see at the beginning and losing the woman who loved him in the process. And we see as he reflects back upon his past, he starts regretting ill-treating his nephew and his clerk Bob Cratchit.

The story is of redemption, but not done in the modern syrupy way you see now in terribly done holiday movies of today. There are hard truths that Scrooge has to face about himself, and his choice is simple: continue as he is now and face a terrible fate or change to becoming more caring and joyful in his life. We also get to see the joy of Christmas being celebrated both in the Cratchit house and later with his nephew Fred. Despite not having a lot of money, the Cratchit’s have a wonderful holiday together. Christmas is depicted as a time for families, children, and to care about our fellow brothers and sisters. Dickens wanted to relate in his book that poverty was no small thing and that we needed to help those in need rather than ignoring them (especially children).

Christmas, like much of the world in Dicken’s time, was undergoing a major change. The observance of the Nativity of Christ was important to the faithful. Yet while it was a time of celebration, it was a simpler celebration. The religious part took place in church while food and drink were at home. Some took the partying to excess causing social problems. General George Washington famously crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Day in 1776 knowing that after a day of partying the German soldiers would be unable to fight. The Reformation had wiped out Christmas traditions in many places, and the Puritans had banned its celebration in England and later in the areas they settled in North America. It was not a public holiday in the United States (except in states that made it a holiday) or much of Europe.

The social changes brought by the dramatic shift from agrarian to industrial society made people want to look for a deeper meaning to things. And Christmas was ripe to be revitalized after being so low-key or ignored for a long time, or a time for wild partying. Dicken’s depiction of the day was family, church, mistletoe and holly, charity, and food. After the book came out, more traditions would be created from Christmas carols, St. Nicholas, Christmas cards and trees. And as many people wanted to celebrate the day with family, it became eventually a national holiday in just about every country in Europe, North and South America, and parts of the far east (Russia mostly). And reading A Christmas Carol has become a Christmas tradition as well. Dicken’s was at the cusp of change when it came to Christmas. He wrote great books before and after this one, but many remember him chiefly for the story of redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge.


There are many adaptations that have been made from plays to movies. Here is a list of those you might want to watch. Almost all the movies change the story in varying ways but try to keep faithful to the overall story.

Scrooge (1913)
One of the early silent movies starring Seymour Hicks. It is one of the few that shows Bob Cratchit sitting by the body of Tiny Tim.

A Christmas Carol (1938)
This version stars Reginald Owen who plays Scrooge well. The story cuts out a lot of the sadder parts of the story and alters the story in other ways (Cratchit is fired early in the movie). Still a good movie to watch for the excellent acting.

Scrooge (1951), re-titled A Christmas Carol
This one starring Alistair Sim is considered by many to be the best. Sim really nails Scrooge, and it is closer to the original in some ways. Shows a bit of his life not covered in the book or other movies to show how became so mean and miserly.

A Christmas Carol (1984)
This version stars George C. Scott as Scrooge. This was a made for television unlike the others above. It was filmed on location in the historic town of Shrewsbury in Shropshire, England lending it an authentic look. Scott’s depiction is not as harsh in tone as Alistair Sim’s depiction, but just as ruthless and unbending in his ways. It has a good cast as well with David Warner playing Bob Cratchit. It has become a favorite and seen on Hallmark and AMC channels during Christmas. Scott’s portrayal got him a nomination for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special. The combination of a great supporting cast and Scott’s performance as Scrooge makes this adaptation better than Alistair Sim’s version.

A Christmas Carol (1999)
This version based on Patrick Stewart’s one man play, but with a full supporting cast, It was inspired by the Sim movie and shows a lot of the grimness of the story. Stewart’s depiction of Scrooge is even more harsh than what Sim or Scott did. Solidly acted but one may be put off by the harsh and grim version of this Scrooge.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
This musical starring Michael Caine and all the Muppet favorites is funny and amusing at times. It is heartwarming and enjoyable on its own terms. Michael Caine delivers a great performance as Scrooge. It is mainly directed at kids, so they will enjoy it best. Adults may find it tedious at times, but the payoffs are the wonderful musical numbers and how the Muppet characters interact during the story. Especially when the Ghost of Christmas yet to be appears. It sends our narrator running for cover until the scene is over.

Christmas Movies:A Christmas Carol

First Edition of A Christmas Carol With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843 Image: public domain
First Edition of A Christmas Carol With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843
Image: public domain

Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol has been made into several movies and made-for-television productions. Most movies keep the basic story though make small changes that do not effect the overall story (there is one notable exception to this). The story of how a miserly man named Ebenezer Scrooge transforms from a cold-hearted man to one who cares and loves has been a favorite since it was published in 1843. His tale of redemption has become an important tale during the Christmas holiday. Although the novel does not deal with Christianity directly, its message is with important tenets of that faith: mercy, love, and redemption. His book, along with others, helped people realize the importance of Christmas and resulted in being a public holiday in just about every English speaking country in the world. And the word Scrooge has entered the vocabulary as someone who can be both mean and miserly during the Christmas season.

Most of the movies are decent and some are better than others. It is a subjective thing to decide which is better than the other. What it comes down to is whether they do a decent job of delivering the story with believable characters. And so here is my list Christmas Carol movies you might want to consider for the holidays.

1. Scrooge (1935)
This was the first sound version of the story starring Seymour Hicks as Scrooge. The major deviation is that none of the ghosts (Marley or any of the Christmas ghosts) are shown just the faces. Both Scrooge’s sister Fan and Fezziwig are left out as well. The movie is not bad but because copyright lapsed horribly butchered cuts are out there. An uncut version can be found at YouTube and you can also download it here.

2. A Christmas Carol (1938)
This has Reginald Owen playing Scrooge and Gene Lockhart (the judge in Miracle on 34th Street) playing Bob Cratchit (his wife Kathleen plays Cratchit’s wife). Owen plays Scrooge a lot lighter than other actors have done but gets the mannerisms and tempo of the character just right. It is easy to overplay Scrooge and make him unbelievably mean. Those with sharp eyes will recognize Leo G. Carroll as Marley’s Ghost, who played Alexander Waverly in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. A major deviation in this rendition is Cratchit is fired when he is with a gang of boys throwing snowballs at passersby. Unfortunately one of them is Scrooge.

3. A Christmas Carol (1951)
This was originally titled Scrooge in U.K and retitled A Christmas Carol for the U.S. While popular in Britain, it was not as well received here. Initially many critics panned it as grim and sombre although the performances were praised. Over the years that criticism has waned as the movie became more popular (again thanks to television syndication). Alistair Sim played Scrooge depicting him more grim and unpleasant than earlier treatments. The mood of the film goes between light and dark; images of happiness and images of loss and pain. A very good version of the tale and the one I often watch the most.

4. Scrooge (1970)
This is a musical adaptation of the story with Albert Finney as Scrooge. This is one of those either you like it or hate it because it is a musical. The music is good and Finney’s acting is superb (he got the Golden Globe for Best Actor for this role)but there are times when you wish it was not a musical as it detracts from the story. The trip to hell sequence was a major deviation from the story. An interesting take on the Dicken’s story worth a look (note some versions are edited because of the graveyard and hell scene were too scary for young audiences).

5. Rich Little’s Christmas Carol/Scrooge(1978)
This one man show for HBO is a treat as Little impersonates famous celebrities in the various roles in the story. Fun to watch but hard to find shown on television these days so you have either borrow from a library or purchase from Amazon. His impersonations are spot on and hilarious.

6. A Christmas Carol (1984)
This was a made-for-television movie that starred George C. Scott as Scrooge. It aired on CBS on 17 Dec 1984 and Scott was nominated for an Emmy for his performance. The movie is a fine telling of the story but does have some changes as noted here on Wikipedia. The changes add a bit more to the story and the only one to show Scrooge’s father. Scott’s depiction of Scrooge differed as well. He was not mean in the way others have portrayed him, but a ruthless and prosperous businessman. This is a personal favorite of mine at Christmas time. Watch the Alistair Sim version and this one for contrast. Both are the same story but with some added twists that do not detract one bit from the story.

7.  The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
This is another musical adaptation of the story but using Muppets along with live actors. Michael Caine plays Scrooge and does it well. And the movie follows the story closely but with the usual Muppet twist. You will see most of the Muppet cast in this movie (Kermit is Bob Cratchit) and the songs are pretty good as well. Alas when the movie was released it was in a sea of very popular movies resulting in box office receipts being not that good. But it mostly got a favorable reception from critics. While many will say it is not the best of the Christmas Carol movies out there, it is worth watching because of its humor and family-friendly telling of the story (no scenes of hell here!). And if you like the Muppets, it is certainly the movie you will probably like.

8.  A Christmas Carol (1999)
After portraying Scrooge on stage, Captain Jean Luc Picard Patrick Stewart does the same for the cable network TNT. The movie is based on the Alistair Sim movie and follows its grim and somber tone. While the story is fine I find Stewart’s depiction as the meanest Scrooge ever. Not one of my favorite adaptations.

Honorable Mentions
Scrooged (1988)
This is a comedic modern day retelling of the classic take starring Bill Murray as Frank Cross, a very cynical television executive. I will not spoil the tale here, watch it for yourself instead (note this movie is PG-13 and marketed to adults and not kids). It got a mixed reception from critics.

Ebbie (1995)
The is a gender-reversal of the tale with Susan Lucci (All My Children). Ebbie is the owner of Dobson’s store, mean to her employees, hates the Christmas holidays, and never gives to charity. So she ends up meeting her past, present, and future when the ghosts take her on tour. Surprisingly the story is good and the acting decent.