A CHRISTIAN CAROL (2016) – Balladeer’s Blog’s 11th Annual Christmas Carol-A-Thon continues with this look at a religious-themed variation of A Christmas Carol. Directed by Stan Severance and written by Wesley T Highlander, A Christian Carol follows in the footsteps of the 1983 production The Gospel According to Scrooge.
That 1983 project has been reviewed previously by Balladeer’s Blog and I will say again that it is so well done that it can appeal to true-believers AND to people like me, who laugh and roll their eyes at it. By comparison, this 2016 production is pretty weak and may barely even appeal to active, devout Christians. Acting, writing, special effects and singing are strictly low-level with only a few bright spots along the way.
Let’s take A Christian Carol beat by beat:
SCROOGE: The stand-in for Ebenezer Scrooge in this modern adaptation of A Christmas Carol is a woman known to us only as Carol. She’s the usual “tight-fisted hand at the grindstone” and runs a company called Rev13. GET IT? The British narrator – who sounds a bit like Robin Leach at times – tells us Carol was as dead inside as a doornail in a cute little twist on the Carol‘s opening line. Our title character has lost her Christian faith and cares only about money now.
Carol is portrayed by Brenda Roesel but comes across more like a potential mass shooter than a Scrooge-like figure. Her pathological hatred of any and every display of Christmas spirit by her employees was so heavily on the unhinged side that I actually paused to check if she was the same woman who played the end-of-her-rope madwoman in the mock Claridryl ad from years ago. (She’s not, but could have been, she’s THAT creepy.)
BOB CRATCHIT – Tammy Halsey plays “Tammy,” Carol’s assistant, who gets chewed out for being a clock-watcher and suffers all the other usual Cratchit-style abuse. Interestingly, she appears only briefly, at the beginning of the film.
NEPHEW FRED – Ashley Pinnock portrays Grace, Carol’s younger sister who has retained her Christian beliefs and then some. In a shrewd writing move, Grace combines the Nephew Fred role with most of the family life backstory of Bob Cratchit, hence the exclusion of Tammy after the opening teaser scenes.
Grace is married to a clergyman and Carol is disgusted with her choice of husband, since his monetary prospects are pretty limited. Credit where it’s due, that is a nice parallel for the way Scrooge condemns Fred for marrying a poor girl with no dowry in A Christmas Carol. Grace had worked for Carol’s Rev13 business but is now quitting because she’s pregnant and wants to be a full-time mother, further aggravating Carol.
Needless to say, our title character turns down Grace’s invitation to celebrate Christmas Eve with her, her husband and their mother, especially since it includes going to church as part of the festivities. Grace has that overly-serene yet unctuous air that makes so many characters in Christian morality plays so annoying.
MARLEY’S GHOST – In a genuinely clever bit, Marley’s Ghost is replaced by a jocular IT Support figure. The warnings about the Three Ghostly Visits come in the form of a computerized Human Resources Training Module Video in three parts. If this whole production had been as sharp as these periodic high points A Christian Carol would be a semi-classic.
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST – The Angel Gabriel (Ken Scrubbs) shows up to take Carol on a visit to the ultimate Christmas Past – the birth of Baby Jesus. This trip also features lengthy Bible quotes about the manger, no room at the inn, the angelic visitation to the shepherds, etc. The special effects and acting are pretty lame in this segment. Gabriel himself stands out since he’s adequate as a supposed Angel.
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT – A jolly, green-garbed clergyman calling himself Yo-Huk-Nan (Charlie Hoffman) is the stand-in for this Christmas spirit. Hoffman’s body language and general pleasantness are the high points of this part of the movie.
The low point is the way that he shows Carol the Nativity Play being performed during mass at her brother-in-law’s church. We viewers get subjected to THE EXACT SAME BIBLICAL LINES about the manger, no room at the inn, the angelic visitation, etc. Not only is this boring but A Christian Carol is only 63 minutes long so precious time was wasted on this repetition.
An unintentionally amusing bit from the Christmas Present portion is the inclusion of Carol and Grace’s mother (Jan Hamilton), whose poor acting and stiff delivery of her lines make her reminiscent of the mother from Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. (And yes, I checked to see if it was the same actress but it’s not.)
GHOST OF CHRISTMAS YET TO COME – Saint Paul (Joe Herrera) is the divine guide for Carol in her visit to Christmas of the future. Though it’s only a few years later, we get treated to CGI of some pretty futuristic architecture in the city. Moreover, Grace’s husband’s church is now laid out like a religious dinner theater, with round tables scattered around the room before the raised platform for the clergyman’s sermons and the singing of the choir.
Though the Christmas Present segment is usually my favorite part of ANY version of A Christmas Carol, this time around Christmas Yet To Come is the high point of the production. In this future we see that a Christian business called God Cafe has to work around the secular limitations imposed on it by a relentlessly hostile government. Considering the way Covid-19 restrictions are currently being used to harass churches and synagogues this part was eerily effective.
(By the way, God Cafe was also the title of a subsequent production from the same filmmakers, so we could wryly say there is an A Christian Carol “cinematic universe.”)
Grace and her husband are still happily married and we now get to see the son Grace was pregnant with earlier. He’s a Special Needs child and is the TINY TIM stand-in for the story. In a genuinely touching bit, Saint Paul makes it clear to the forever-angry Carol that the child is NOT considered a burden by Grace and her man. They love him as he is and he is a constant bright spot in their lives. Once again, this production’s high points can’t help but make you wish the whole thing was up to the same standards.
After all that, A Christian Carol moves into inventive territory reminiscent of the post-nuke segment of Rod Serling’s Cold War adaptation Carol For Another Christmas. The end of the world arrives and all true believers are lifted up from the Earth in a Rapture-style event, leaving non-believers and evil-doers behind to suffer through the horrific destruction of the planet.
Some poor CGI is the only weak element of this otherwise haunting segment, which shows an increasingly frightened Carol roaming a post-apocalypse city. Newscasts are trying to make sense of the disappearance of so many people as well as the sudden onslaught of natural and technological disasters. War, aliens and other explanations are pondered but a few people despairingly recognize that the religious beliefs they ignored or ridiculed all their lives have turned out to be true after all.
With the world collapsing around her, Carol wanders into the now-deserted church formerly run by her brother-in-law. She kneels at the large crucifix inside in a scene reminiscent of Ebenezer Scrooge dropping to his knees to plead with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Scrooge was at his own graveside, of course, but Carol is at the figurative grave of the entire world.
THE MORNING AFTER – Like Scrooge awakening in his bed, Carol wakes up on her knees beside the chair in her office. A security guard named Bill takes the place of Ebenezer’s maid AND of the little boy who reassures our main character that it is indeed Christmas Eve (not day in this case) and she hasn’t missed it. Carol gives Bill a big Christmas bonus and rushes to her brother-in-law’s church to celebrate and sing alongside her sister and her mother.
A Christian Carol is mostly a boring slog filled with poor songs and even poorer acting. There are just barely enough high points to make me hope somebody does a much bigger-budgeted remake at some point. +++
FOR MORE VERSIONS OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/a-christmas-carol-2/
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