Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a tale that has been ingrained in the public consciousness for 176 years now. It has been adapted for stage and screen countless times, and 2020’s version from sibling directors Jacqui and David Morris seeks to put a unique spin on its retelling.
The film starts with a Victorian family preparing a paper theatre for a performance of A Christmas Carol, which their Grandmother (Sian Phillips) narrates. The audience then sees the story play out as a mixture of danced action and narration through the imagination of one of the children.
It’s certainly a vastly different presentation of the story that we might have come to expect. The fact that there are different physical and vocal performances for the characters also plays a part in this, creating a sense of detachment from the actors and focusing on the poetic language instead.
The dialogue is indeed flowery, very much replicating how a theatrical performance of A Christmas Carol would be done. The rhythm of the vocabulary is facilitated effectively by the actors, in what is a pretty stacked cast.
Simon Russell Beale provides the voice of Scrooge, with the likes of Carey Mulligan, Daniel Kaluyya, Martin Freeman, Leslie Caron and Andy Serkis also chipping in. Everyone apart from Beale though is almost a cameo appearance, but what little time these actors have in the film is still well utilised, with Serkis’ Jacob Marley coming across as very haunting in particular.
Praise must also be given to the set design, which blends the paper theatre setting with varied environments, thus creating some visually-arresting scenery. Colourful lighting and ghostly visual effects give an ethereal feel to the scenes of Scrooge’s visits from the ghosts, whilst the choreography of the dancers seems to be well-rehearsed.
The issues with this film mainly arise from my familiarity with the source material. It’s such a faithful adaptation that you know exactly when every story beat is going to occur, which gives you very little to be invested in. Dullness surrounding the story quickly crept in to sully the experience, with the potency of Scrooge’s moral redemption even being lost as a result.
Not enough is really done to justify the film’s existence with the countless versions of this story being out there. Unique presentation aside there is not much to differentiate it from many other films telling this tale.
Interestingly enough this is only Jacqui and David Morris’s second narrative feature that they’ve directed, following Mr. Right in 2009. In the years between those they have made their name directing well-received documentaries, such as McCullin and Attacking the Devil. There is some promise on display that could lead to a engaging narrative film in the future from the pair, but it doesn’t fully come to form here.
A Christmas Carol is in UK cinemas right now.