Balladeer’s Blog’s TENTH Annual Christmas Carol-A-Thon continues with this review!
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2015) – This 59 minute rendition of the Dickens Yuletide classic is often referred to as “the Colin Baker version.” Too bad Baker can’t sue somebody over that, since he had nothing to do with this laughable production beyond portraying Charles Dickens and narrating the story.
CHARLES WHO? – Colin “Doctor Who” Baker plays an elderly Charles Dickens serving as the story’s narrator … and misquoting much of his own work since this is one of those versions where the filmmakers feel they can “improve” on what Dickens wrote.
It’s one thing to try to colloquialize the Victorian prose which some viewers find challenging but it’s something else again to insert bland nothings in place of the original dialogue. Dickens’ exchanges often flow smoothly, with one character’s line perfectly setting up another character’s response. Here we have conversations as boring and unmemorable as those in real life. (That’s not a compliment.)
Baker is introduced in a clever (I’m being charitable) bit of business in which his image is as fuzzy as an old silent movie and he sounds tinny, like in Thomas Edison’s oldest recordings. I guess it’s done to capture an “old-timey” feel but the novel came in 1843, long before even such primitive recording equipment was available.
Soon the image improves to conventional standards (well, sort of) and the sound improves to 1950s television levels. Unfortunately, this is a 2015 production, not a 1950s presentation, and the weak, amateurish sound work will plague this Carol the rest of the way.
Colin Baker is the best part of this production and his effortless charm and captivating delivery make it clear how badly the other players lack the acting ability and the strong voices needed to be effective in their roles.
ANTHONY D.P. MANN – Mann IS Tim Conway’s Mr Tudbole as Ebenezer Scrooge! Well, without the moustache. Mann has a history of placing himself in the starring roles of his productions and never fails to put me in mind of Conway.
Anyway, Anthony’s singing will make you realize how comparatively good his acting is. I honestly thought this was a public access cable production the first time I saw it. Viewers might wonder why Mann thought he could handle the demands of playing Scrooge … until you see the poor performances of the other actors.
A minor change is that there is only one charity collector – a woman – who visits the Scrooge & Marley office. Nephew Fred’s visit and Cratchit’s request to have off Christmas Day come and go with a few fragments of actual Dickens dialogue trapped amid mounds of lameness.
THE SONGS – The songs are weak at best and cringeworthy at worst. Each song might have a few lines that stand out like something a professional songwriter would come up with but they’re mostly dreck.
*** HEY, HERE’S AN IDEA! If you’re determined to NOT use Dickens’ actual dialogue AND you insist on polluting the Carol with your own tuneless songs why don’t you instead do something original! Write a VERSE rendition of A Christmas Carol! That way you can insert your own dialogue AND scratch a little bit of that songwriter itch by showing off your poetry skills.
I’m not being sarcastic with that suggestion. I genuinely believe that even a poor production like this Carol could be saved by the novelty of using verse dialogue and dispensing with the cut-rate songs. Here’s hoping somebody does such a version of A Christmas Carol some day.
JACOB MARLEY – Terry Wade plays Marley’s Ghost but for some reason wears no chains. Scrooge encounters this spirit while sleeping in his office so we get no doorknocker scene, either. Instead, Scrooge talks to a picture of Jacob which is mounted on his wall. A picture enclosed in glass. Bits of the set’s reflectors can be seen in the reflection in that glass for a kind of Ed Wood Christmas feel.
Remember my review of the 1940s Spanish version of A Christmas Carol? Remember how the actor portraying Marley emerges from a life-sized portrait on the wall? In this Carol there’s an inventive variation in the way that Marley’s face disappears from the picture on the wall when his ghost talks with Scrooge then reappears in it when he leaves.
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST – Sherri Paterson does double-duty as the charity collector and the Ghost of Christmas Past. As we all know there are plenty of versions of A Christmas Carol which feature the ghosts as people Scrooge knows from real life so that’s not a fatal change.
On the other hand the Christmas Past portion features pointless changes which will make you shake your head. For some reason Scrooge’s father is really his STEP-father in this Carol. I was afraid that meant the film-makers were going to make sister Fan be Scrooge’s love interest since they wouldn’t be blood relatives but no, that’s not the case.
Why change his father to a step-father then? Because the Mann has got to keep us down, that’s why! I’m kidding. There is absolutely no reason for it and no purpose is served by the change.
Even worse, this Carol depicts Jacob Marley adopting Scrooge and taking him away from his wretched boarding school. So in one fell swoop Mann has eliminated the happy scene where Fan brings Ebenezer home for a rare happy Christmas AND eliminated Scrooge’s first employer Fezziwig from the narrative.
Credit where it’s due, though. This version does not pad the role of Ebenezer’s lost love Belle. We see her as Dickens intended: in the scene where she dumps Scrooge because of his fixation on wealth. We ARE told she never married though, but unlike the step-father change this alteration of the novel actually serves a purpose which I’m sure you can guess.
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT (Andrea Hiltz) – This spirit is appropriately jovial and if not for the singing this would have been a very enjoyable portion even with the changes made to the story.
Those changes: Belle is working with poor people, Bob Cratchit and his wife have only one child and that child is a Tiny Tim who claims to be sickly but walks around with a spring in his step with no need of a crutch. Hell, I half-expected him to start dribbling a basketball and go shooting hoops with his friends. The only sign that he’s ill comes from some half-hearted coughs that don’t even reach the level of a kid trying to fake sickness so they can stay home from school.
A plus is that this ghost visits the poor like in the novel, not just the homes of Nephew Fred and the Cratchits.
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS YET-TO-COME (Pamela Prendergast) – Again, credit where it’s due. This version shows Ebenezer immediately piecing together that he is the one being talked about by Old Joe and the scavengers as well as the businessmen who are callous about his death. That’s at least a change that streamlines some scenes.
Another interesting change which doesn’t get in the way is the fact this Scrooge offers to die in Tiny Tim’s place if only the ghost will let him. The woman playing this ghost does a good job so that helps, too.
THE FINALE – Scrooge reunites with Belle but we don’t get told that they marry or anything so even that is kind of wasted. Scrooge doesn’t punk Cratchit the day after Christmas, either. Nephew Fred and Bobby C make no impression whatsoever.
On the plus side the costumes of each of the ghosts were well-done and helped take my mind off the Earl Owensby anachronisms in each scene.
I would recommend avoiding this Carol unless you’ve got plenty of Mr Tudbole jokes ready to help laugh your way through it.
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