Let’s face it, it’s really no wonder that so many actors want to try their hand at portraying Ebenezer Scrooge and that so many people try to provide audiences with the definitive take on “A Christmas Carol”. In fact, when you consider just how great the tale and characters are, it’s surprising that there aren’t even MORE film adaptations of the Charles Dickens story. But seeing a film like this one get so much wrong in the way it treats the material makes you think that, well, maybe the numbers are just right.
Albert Finney plays the title role, and he’s very good. Ebenezer is a miserly man, ruled by money and with no time in his life or his heart for Christmas. Which is why he is visited by three spirits who will remind him of his past, show him how things are in the here and now and then present him with a possible future. But you already know all of this – the character of Scrooge, poor Bob Cratchit (David Collings), the appearance of Jacob Marley’s ghost (Alec Guinness), the journeys through time and space, Tiny Tim (Richard Beaumont), etc, etc, etc.
Everything is pretty much as you would expect although the main addition to this interpretation of the tale is a lively selection of songs. Yes, this Scrooge is a musical. There’s good cinema to be had from classic works given the musical makeover (Oliver! being the first film that springs to mind but there are many others). This isn’t good cinema.
Aside from Albert Finney in the lead role, and the great Alec Guinness, I can’t think of anyone else who makes a good impression. David Collings makes for a blander-than-usual Bob Cratchit and Richard Beaumont is stuck with an overly sappy Tiny Tim, complete with overly sappy song moment. The most fun to be had here, for UK viewers, is in seeing the little roles for the likes of Anton Rodgers, Gordon Jackson, Roy Kinnear, Geoffrey Bayldon and others.
Ronald Neame directs things with a strange hesitancy and caution, as if he doesn’t really have faith in his own abilities to do justice to the material (a self-fulfilling prophecy?). There are some nice sets and designs here and there but they’re never shown to best effect and, consequently, the movie feels far too low-key and stagey to carry audiences along on a wave of grand festivities, song and dance. In fact, the songs throughout, with the exception of “Thank You Very Much” just fall flat and as soon as the credits rolled I couldn’t remember a single tune I had just heard. Which is surely not a good sign for a musical.
This movie pales in comparison to many other Christmas movies and it’s even near the bottom of the pile when it comes to adaptations of the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. Some people hold it dear to them as a favourite so it’s certainly not a universally loathed movie (far from it, in fact). But It’s not one that I’ll be seeking out again to watch during the holidays.
DIRECTOR: RONALD NEAME
WRITER: LESLIE BRICUSSE, BASED ON “A CHRISTMAS CAROL” BY CHARLES DICKENS
STARS: ALBERT FINNEY, DAVID COLLINGS, RICHARD BEAUMONT, ALEC GUINNESS, EDITH EVANS, KENNETH MORE, LAURENCE NAISMITH, MICHAEL MEDWIN, SUZANNE NEVE
RUNTIME: 120 MINS APPROX