A CHRISTMAS CAROL
by Charles Dickens (1843)
Review by Father Frank St. Amour*
Hurriedly written in 1843 to stave off creditors, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”
has proven to be an incredible success in every medium of entertainment. It might
well be said that the first person to portray Scrooge was Dickens himself in his popular public readings which he performed
until his death in 1870.
The first film of the “Carol” is believed to have been a ten-minute series of scene tableaux
made in 1901 starring Sir Seymour Hicks who had successfully played Scrooge in the theatres.
Hicks reprised the role with fuller versions made in 1913 and 1935, but, by then, “Carol” had already been
remade at least half a dozen times. As of today, the film versions, many of which
have adapted the story to settings as diverse as the Wild West and the Depression, not to mention references to the “Carol”
in other films and t.v. shows, are almost more than can be counted.
And yet what does this fictional story have to do with the historical event we celebrate at Christmas
– the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word made Flesh? Why must
this heaven and earth shattering event share the glory of the night with an old miser and three ghosts? Perhaps because while the story doesn’t once mention stables, or shepherds, or stars, or wise men,
or even Jesus by name, it is nonetheless a parable about the deepest meaning of the Christmas event – Redemption.
Scrooge is a bitter and cynical man, but he is merely the product of a bitter and cynical age of prisons,
workhouses, and a hard attitude towards “the surplus population”. He
reflects the harsh realities of life in 19th Century England – poverty, child abuse, addiction, injustice. Scrooge is, in fact, so hurt and overwhelmed by the evils around him that he chooses
to retreat into his counting house and despise the rest of humanity as if he were some sort of superiour being.
The story of Scrooge is the story of the Redemption which the Babe of Bethlehem came to bring. Scrooge is made to see that the only way evil in the world can be averted is if he
plays an active part.
Our world is much like the world of Scrooge. We know the
face of evil. Terrorism and war are part of our experience – drugs, murder,
sexual abuse, broken homes, personal tragedy. We can also feel overwhelmed and
seek solace in isolation. “Carol” appeals because it brings the message
of Hope in community and that is why on stage, radio, film, t.v. and whatever
else the future holds, it will endure and speak to every generation, in every place and time, in the words of Tiny Tim, “God
bless us, everyone.”
Any list of Memorable Scrooges must begin with Alistair Sim (1951).
The scene where he agonizes in the restaurant whether to spend a ha’penny for more bread shows us that he genuinely
feels the suffering his own miserliness imposes on him. For sheer drama and depth,
his performance will remain iconic.
Albert Finney (1970) doth protest too much his contempt of the world and the shortcomings of his fellow
Man. One gets the sense that here is a really good man trying to be bad as a
defense mechanism and, having experienced his Redemption, this Scrooge will impose it on everybody else beginning Dec. 26th
when we return to our “normal” attitudes and routines. He could be
a real pain.
Michael Caine (1992) may be a surprising entry considering his Scrooge had to contend with frogs, pigs,
and assorted Muppets for a cast. He pulls it off believably, though, and one
can see that had he been in a more dramatic setting, he may well have been the blackest Scrooge. And another surprise is Henry Winkler (1979) who starred in one of those adaptations which breaks with
most of Dickens’ conventions. As a hard-nosed 1930’s New England
businessman who undergoes the “Carol” experience via encounters with the ghosts of people he’s cheated,
the quiet scene at the end, after all the “hoopla” of gift-giving and debt forgiveness, where he begins wordlessly
whittling a peg with a nameless lad who appears similar to himself in his youth, is an incredibly moving sign of his personal
change and his determination to save others from his path.
Dozens of actors have taken on this role, from the most serious to the comedic. We may be gratified and enriched by all their performances.