The biopic is a type of movie that offers a glimpse into the life of a figure from history. They may attempt to cover a broad history of their central figure, or they may choose to instead focus their lens upon a singular event in their life. In any case, they offer a chance to examine the fascinating history behind real people, from ordinary people to grand figures in the scope of history. However, there is one particular kind of person that can pose a challenge with the biopic. Namely, a writer. Writers of course can make their impact on history with their writing, but how does one communicate their work to an audience? After all, simply showing the writer writing and then having others say their work is great can come across as dull and blunt. Thankfully, a new film about Charles Dickens has found an interesting approach over this hurdle. In the film The Man Who Invented Christmas, it takes the chance to look at Charles Dickens and his creation of A Christmas Carol. Within this delightful look at the the creation of a literary classic, it presents the writing process by having Dickens interact with his own characters as he builds the story.
Suffering from a string of three flops and finding mounting debt facing him, Charles Dickens must write a new hit. Finding inspiration all around him, in particular a little-attended funeral for a rich man, he hits upon the idea of a ghost story set during Christmastime. However, his publishers are hesitant to go ahead with the idea, not only due to Dickens’s string of flops but also due to Christmas being a then-little-celebrated holiday. As a result, Dickens takes it upon himself to self-publish his book, intending to release it in time for Christmas. Thus, he is left with six weeks to write this new story and get it published in time. Complicating matters is the arrival of his father John, a man Charles resents for his spendthrift and immature ways. In fact, it is those attitudes that had caused a split between the two of them, resulting in a past that still haunts Dickens. That haunting gnaws at him, particularly as he tries to find the ending to his story. He finds himself plagued by a simple question: can a man, trapped in his ways and past for so long, truly change after all this time?
The Man Who Invented Christmas is a breezy, delightful look at the making of such a classic piece of Christmas literature. Dan Stevens works well as the famous author Charles Dickens, lending him both an eccentric air as he captures that great creative spark and that unease when facing the chains of his own past. Likewise, Christopher Plummer is a natural fit as Ebenezer Scrooge, giving the miser a cold gaze and hardened air. There is a charming, theatrical pulse to the film as a whole, which charges ahead with a firm energy in its tale. Using the dynamic of Dickens meeting and interacting with his characters as he fleshes them out into form adds a spirited touch to the proceedings, mixing his memories and the world around him with the fantastical tale of spirits on Christmas Eve. In fact, with its element of doubling actors as both figures in Dickens’s life and characters from his story, one could almost imagine this work playing out on a stage in the West End. More than that, this idea goes into one of the best strengths of the film. Namely, it offers a visual format for presenting the writing process.
The challenge in presenting a writer at work is the fact that writing is, essentially, an internal task. It is a person bringing their ideas and thoughts to the page. Thus, a way to work around that hurdle when telling the story of a writer is to externalize that process. The Man Who Invented Christmas finds a variety of ways to communicate the writing process and Dickens’s path to creating A Christmas Carol. For instance, people and things all around Dickens plant their inspiration for elements of his story. One such example is how the name of an aging waiter and the image of chains scattered over a lawyer’s safe eventually come together to create the ghost of Jacob Marley. Most often, the film plays with Dickens talking to and interacting with his characters, finding how they develop and in turn develop the story. An early meeting upon first creating Scrooge, as an example, leads to a word association game that fleshes out the tight-fisted miser and better crystallizes the character in Dickens’s mind. More than that, it also uses these character to better explore Dickens himself. Over the course of the film, Scrooge serves as not just the bitter man who would be so central to A Christmas Carol. He also serves to represent Dickens’s fears and doubts, gnawing away at him with the concerns of his past and his present. It is a way that also communicates the personal impact of the writer, how their own life can come to affect and influence their work. All in all, it does a lot more than other works that just show a writer doing their job and showing others react to their work. It shows all the pieces that come into play, from the bits of inspiration in the world around them to those personal interior sparks.
Biopics can be made of all sorts of figures through history, but writers are more difficult to convey due to the nature of their profession. The Man Who Invented Christmas deftly handles that issue as Dickens meets the characters of his own story, offering a spirited touch to the history behind a literary classic.