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"THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS"
(2017) (Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: Hoping to pen a successful novel after recent failures, an author finds the characters of his next work influencing his writing and the story's direction in this look at the creation of "A Christmas Carol."
PLOT:
It's 1843 and following the wild success of his "Oliver Twist" novel, Charles Dickens (DAN STEVENS) has written a number of works that have flopped and is facing a serious case of writer's block, something with which his wife, Kate (MORFYDD CLARK), is all too familiar. With the help of his friend and pseudo-publicist, John Forster (JUSTIN EDWARDS), Charles is hoping to right that slump and thinks he might be onto something after encountering a nighttime funeral, a curmudgeon of an old man, and the notion of writing a Christmas story about them. That's also fueled by hearing spooky children's tales told by one of his new housekeepers, Tara (ANNA MURPHY), and all of that helps in the initial formation of what will ultimately become "A Christmas Carol."

But just as he's starting to regain his creative footing, his long-estranged father, John (JONATHAN PRYCE) and mother, Elizabeth (GER RYAN), show up unannounced and uninvited. Much to Charles' dismay, his father repeatedly interrupts the creative process where characters from his work in progress start appearing in person (in Charles' mind), starting with Ebenezer Scrooge (CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER) and continuing through Jacob Marley (DONALD SUMPTER) and a trio of ghosts that figure prominently in the novel.

Facing a publishing deadline and mounting bills, Charles tries to finish the work in time, all while contending with the various distractions, interruptions and even having his characters take the story in directions in which they'd like to see it go.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
As some of you may know from previous reviews, I've tried my hand at movie and TV writing over the years, coming close to success a few times. Writing for me has usually been a long and arduous undertaking, nearly always afflicted with bouts of creativitus interruptus, a.k.a. writer's block. But I did have one amazing moment back in college while writing a spec script for the TV show "Cheers."

I don't recall how or why it started, but I suddenly found myself akin to a creative medium where I was writing as fast as possible without even thinking, as if channeling a future look at some episode and was transcribing that seemingly with no mental processing of which I was aware. A girl I knew stopped by midstream and interrupted that and I couldn't get it back.

I've also had characters ending up taking their story in a different direction than I imagined, which is also a fun creative process as you don't know where things are headed. Granted, I never felt like I was directly or actively interacting with them in person, but that's the fun flight of fancy idea behind "The Man Who Invented Christmas."

Marking the third film of the fall to detail what inspired older creative works -- the others being "Goodbye Christopher Robin" (about the creation of the Winnie the Pooh characters) and "Professor Marston and the Wonder Women" (detailing the racy aspects behind the Wonder Woman comic book character) -- this one is more imaginative in depicting the creative process behind one of the most recognized tales of all time.

And that would be "A Christmas Carol," author Charles Dickens' best-known work among other notable entries in the history of literature. As the story begins, Dickens (a good Dan Stevens) is touring America to great fanfare and adulation following the publishing of "Oliver Twist." But after three successive flops, all of that's evaporated and the writer needs to come up with something new, what with a growing family with his wife (Morfydd Clark) and mounting bills and debts.

I have no idea what really inspired Dickens to come up with his tale of a miserable old miser who's visited by three ghosts that provide introspection and give him another chance at life. But whether being completely factual or taking some or a lot of artistic license, director Bharat Nalluri and screenwriter Susan Coyne -- who's adapted the book of the same name by Les Standiford -- have fun with their explanations of the genesis and in-progress transformation of the work.

With the help of his pseudo-publicist (Justin Edwards) and getting some inspiration from a nighttime burial he comes across and spooky children's tales told by one of his new housekeepers (a charming Anna Murphy), Dickens suddenly gets the idea to write a Christmas story featuring a curmudgeon.

Much to his surprise, that protagonist shows up in his office in the form of Scrooge -- played by Christopher Plummer who's suddenly the hardest working man in show business -- at the age of 87 -- and he's so good here you wish he had more screen time than he already gets. He has critical opinions of the author and his work, and it's not long before other characters start showing up and taking over control of the helm.

But just when the creative wheels really start rolling, outside interruptions arrive, mainly in the form of Charles' long-estranged father (Jonathan Pryce) whose past (seen in flashbacks) mesmerized but also tormented the future author at a young and impressionable age.

While some of that's a bit dark in terms of tone and theme, for the most part, the film is light on its feet as it plays with and off the creative process. Perhaps those who've never written fiction won't fully appreciate what's presented here, but I found it an enjoyable, entertaining and imaginative look at the general creative process as well as the creation of "A Christmas Carol" in particular. "The Man Who Invented Christmas" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed November 6, 2017 / Posted November 22, 2017


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