Balladeer’s Blog’s 9th Annual Christmas Carol-A-Thon continues with this take on one of the perennial staples of Christmastime viewing. Readers are often surprised that I haven’t reviewed this one even though it’s one of my favorites. No special reason, it’s just that so many excellent reviews have already covered this Carol that I wanted to hit the more obscure versions first.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1984) – Let me kick off this review with my old, overused joke about wanting to hear George C Scott holler “Dickens, you magnificent bastard … I READ YER BOOOOOOOOK!”
My only complaints about this undeniable classic would be 1) the way it’s one of those Carols which unnecessarily add extra tension to the relationship between Scrooge and his father and 2) unnecessary magnification of why the poor and unemployed are sad at Christmas. Dickens put it poetically. This adaptation belabors it.
Moving on to the performances:
SCROOGE – Be thankful that George C Scott toned down his George C Scottishness for this role. If you’ve seen him as Fagan in the 1982 adaptation of Oliver Twist you know what a bullet this Christmas Carol dodged. (“When you put your hand into a pile of goo that a minute ago was the Artful Dodger’s face … You’ll know what to do.” That’s the last time I’ll do that. I promise.)
BOB CRATCHIT – David Warner strikes me as jarringly old for Bob Cratchit but that’s a fairly minor quibble. On the plus side he has always appealed to me more than those Bob Cratchits who overdo the timidity.
Warner as Cratchit seems more stoic than browbeaten and appears to genuinely care about having his children see only tender emotions at Christmastime. His appeal to his wife to drink the toast to Scrooge’s health really seems to be for the sake of their observing children. Wimpier Bob Cratchits play this scene as if they actually think Scrooge is a hell of a guy.
NEPHEW FRED – Ironically THIS guy (Roger Rees) fits the stereotype of the timid Bob Cratchit! He and Warner might have been forced to switch roles under a less original production team. Sadly, though, Rees fades into the woodwork as possibly the least memorable Fred ever. When the guy playing Dick Wilkins outshines you, you know you’re the wrong guy to portray Nephew Fred.
MARLEY’S GHOST – Frank Finlay walks a fine line between horror and dark humor as one of the best Marley’s Ghosts around. He benefits as well from the way the creative team remembered to include the ghostly hearse and the tiles in addition to the door knocker bit.
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST – Not to be unkind to Angela Pleasence but she was an inspired choice to portray this spirit that Dickens himself described as being of indeterminate gender. And her wardrobe is perfect for a ghost of Christmas Past. Too many versions ignore that most crucial aspect of this spirit’s nature.
FEZZIWIG – I have no complaints about Timothy Bateson nor do I have any resounding praise for him. He’s serviceable and it may just be the low-key nature of this production that prevented him from letting loose.
YOUNG SCROOGE – I’m always too distracted with thoughts of “Turlow IS Young Ebenezer Scrooge” to pay much attention to Mark Strickson’s performance.
BELLE – The same year she starred opposite Val Kilmer in Top Secret! Lucy Gutteridge gave the world one of the few Belles who doesn’t seem to overstay her welcome. She is pitch perfect even in the flash-forward to the bit with her subsequent husband on the night of Marley’s death.
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT – Edward Woodward is AT LEAST one of my Top Two Ghosts of Christmas Present. I can’t help but wish his scenes went on at least 5 or 6 minutes longer than they do.
TINY TIM – Anthony Walters plays it cute but not cloying or annoying. What more can you ask of a Tiny Tim?
THE CRATCHITS – Bland, blander, blandest. Susannah York is missing her usual flair. Like Bateson as Fezziwig, York may have been smothered by the Director’s obvious desire to keep the performances low-key.
None of this means I dislike this version of A Christmas Carol. It’s just that reviewing such an almost universally praised production feels like being the 8,947th Man on the Moon. +++
FOR MORE VERSIONS OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/a-christmas-carol-2/