FX’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ won’t get you in the holiday spirit
Throughout the entirety of my childhood, I viewed multiple film and stage adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol annually during the holiday season. For the sake of my childhood self, I’m really glad the versions I watched all those years weren’t FX’s A Christmas Carol original movie.
Dickens’ story is one of goodness and the universality of kindness. This new version, on the other hand, focuses on innate human vileness. And although it’s well-executed and thought-provoking, I found such a bleak and, frankly, distressing overhaul too dark for my liking.
You probably know the original: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a grumpy, miserly loan shark who despises Christmas. He forgoes his nephew’s Christmas party every year and pays his sole employee, Bob Cratchit, next to nothing.
The story finds Scrooge on Christmas Eve, a year after the death of his equally inconsiderate business partner, Jacob Marley. That night, Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge and urges him to change his selfish ways. When Scrooge refuses, Marley’s ghost enlists the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future to haunt Scrooge in the wee hours of Christmas morning.
If feeling chilled to the bone is your cup of tea, FX’s A Christmas Carol very well might be your latest festive obsession.
Spoiler alert, but … after his mystical night, Scrooge reflects on his actions and resolves to change for the better: He becomes “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as [London] knew,” according to Dickens’ .
FX’s adaptation diverges drastically from the original Dickensian tale. The 2020 fantasy movie, written and executively produced by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders, Dirty Pretty Things) and executively produced by Ridley Scott, Tom Hardy, Katie Crowe, Dean Baker, and David W. Zucker, is being accurately billed as a “” of the story.
The adaptation’s grim spirit is bolstered by striking changes in the story’s plot. Instead of Marley generously aiding Scrooge in his personal transformation so Scrooge can “,” Marley’s own redemption is directly tied to that of Scrooge in the new movie. In particular, Marley is barred from exiting purgatory unless he gets Scrooge to change his ways.
So, instead of one unlikeable protagonist, we get two. Knight’s Marley (Stephen Graham) only interacts with Scrooge for his own personal gain. Once again, the human goodness that guided Dickens’ tale is exchanged for human greed and selfishness.
Instead of Marley orchestrating Scrooge’s haunting, Scrooge’s fate is placed in the hands of Mary Cratchit (Vinette Robinson), the wife of Bob Cratchit. (More spoilers follow.) Mary asks Scrooge for money so she can pay for life-saving surgery for her son, Tim (Lenny Rush). Scrooge then tricks Mary into thinking he will pay her for sex, but once Mary undresses, Scrooge tells her he has no desire for her. Scrooge then mocks Mary’s naiveté and gives her the money she needs … on the condition that if Bob were to ever quit his job, Scrooge would tell Bob that Mary had set out to be unfaithful to him.
Mary, who is actually a witch, punishes Scrooge for the distress he’s caused her and her family by setting the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future loose on him. (As a viewer, I was more disturbed to see Mary be tortured in the first place than empowered by her eventual and laborious retribution of Scrooge.)
In addition to taking liberties with the story’s themes and plot, Knight’s version highlights the global forces behind our notion of Christmas. As owners of factories that neglect their employees and place them in abhorrent working conditions, Scrooge and Marley ultimately have to repent for their sins as diehard capitalists who’ve exploited others through imperialism and commercialism just as much as they repent for being all-around awful men. It’s an interesting and topical touch, and I appreciated Knight’s modern, relevant revision here.
But Knight’s clever messaging didn’t redeem the movie for me. Many facets of Scrooge’s past, present, and future depicted are so awful (such as Scrooge’s father knowingly allowing his son to be molested by his schoolmaster) I couldn’t believe Knight actually went there.
When much of a program’s appeal relies on shock value, viewers look forward to a conclusion or final resonance that delivers some sort of catharsis. However, Knight’s adaptation is so pessimistic that its ending doesn’t provide much reprieve or redress from the horrors included in its narrative. Watching the new movie feels thankless.
Gloom and doom aside, Pearce does a fantastic job as Scrooge. He plays a tortured, complex, and ruthless character with grace, honesty, and humility. Andy Serkis, who plays the Ghost of Christmas Past, is appropriately spooky. Robinson’s Mary Cratchit is a compelling heroine with depth who outshines her husband (sorry, Joe Alwyn!) in ways I’ve never seen in other adaptations.
Finally, Lenny Rush’s performance as Tiny Tim was refreshing: Rush’s Tim is witty and delivers his lines with a wisdom beyond his years. With regard to his authentic casting, the 10-year-old actor, who has the bone growth disorder spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita, said it best when speaking to the : “I think why not cast a disabled actor in the role of a disabled person if they are good at what they do? It raises awareness and shows that everyone is different.”
Those positives aside, if you’re looking for a recent, tried-and-true adaptation of the Victorian-era holiday tale to watch this holiday season, FX’s A Christmas Carol probably won’t give you what you’re looking for. However, if feeling chilled to the bone is your cup of tea, it very well may be your latest festive obsession. Personally, after watching Knight’s adaptation, I felt like I do after watching most scary movies: ready to watch Bob’s Burgers and in need of a hug.
Might I suggest ?
FX’s A Christmas Carol movie premieres on FX on December 19.
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