Release Date – 4th December 2020, Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 36 minutes, Directors – Jacqui Morris, David Morris
A dance-based retelling of A Christmas Carol with recorded dialogue reading Dickens’ words.
Not even 2020 is able to stop another version of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol from making it to the big screen. However, this take from sibling directors Jacqui and David Morris puts a slightly different spin on things. Telling the story mostly through dance, with voiceovers reciting the lines of Dickens’ text to what is happening on screen at the time. Much of the action occurs in and around a cardboard-looking set in the middle of the stage. Functioning as the various different locations throughout the story – one which never tries to be a new version of the classic Christmas tale, it knowingly travels along its lines as a retelling. The camera capturing shots and ideas beyond a standard theatre recording – there’s certainly a cinematic element to the film and the way it’s shot.
We open with a group of Victorian children creating an actual model theatre/ set in their living room. The family arrive to sit around it as Grandma (Siân Phillips) begins to tell the tale of Scrooge, acting as the main narrator throughout the piece. The theatre opens up into a proper theatre of the mind as the dancers begin to bustle around the busy streets of London, while Scrooge takes his money from the poor, humbugging the festivities outside. Michael Nunn takes the form of Scrooge on screen, while Simon Russell Beale – who so wonderfully played evil in The Death Of Stalin – is on voicing duties.
As Ebenezer is visited by the four spirits that will hopefully turn him into a better person one of the biggest issues with a number of Christmas Carol adaptations arrives. It’s sometimes difficult to show the gradual development of Scrooge, he often seems to change instantly at some point in the film – even The Muppet Christmas Carol has this issue. One of history’s biggest misers in this instance appears to show a more emotional, less cynical, side during his interaction with the restlessly twisting figure of deceased business partner Jacob Marley (Russell Maliphant – with the gravelly rumble of Andy Serkis).
Many of these earlier scenes are flooded in icy blue hues, showing the coldness of Scrooge’s heart. This is the same style – making elements in frame appear almost white – in which we see the lonely, isolated and homeless throughout the film – although such elements are briefly looked at and feel as if they could have a slight bit more done with them. Meanwhile a light orange fills the moments aiming for warmth, particularly when looking into the home life of Scrooge’s struggling employee Bob Cratchit (Karl Fagerland Brekke/ Martin Freeman) and his family.
The film travels along its lines relatively pleasantly, the visuals are certainly interesting at times. And while the feeling that this would be better witnessed performed live on the stage – mostly down to the highly theatrical feeling, even the voice performances have an air of theatricality to them. The piece certainly works on the screen, but it feels as if it would be better seen unfolding on a stage, even if the camera weaves in and out of the various actions in a way that theatre can’t do.
Highlights, as usual, arrive at the joyful presence of The Ghost Of Christmas Present (Mikey Boats/ an ingeniously cast Daniel Kaluuya). His humour and heart is felt, as we slowly see various different households celebrating the Christmas Day to come – the film certainly takes its time to dwell on each instance, trying to explore various details and keep track of different characters and their whereabouts. Admittedly things mostly slow down just after the hour mark – as the second spirit is finishing his message – much of the film seems to be so dominated by the dialogue that tells the story that the dance and general visual flair can’t quite take centre stage and so it doesn’t break out as much as it perhaps wants to. It does mean that this particular feature does stick to Dickens more than most even if not quite with the darkness – this is a mostly family-friendly watch. While there are some elements that seem to not quite clash, but hold the film back a bit there’s still a fair deal to like about this particular take on A Christmas Carol. It’s something different and there’s interest in that, and its traditional yet unique theatricality often serves as enough to stop it from delving into anything particularly uninteresting.
While it does feel as if the dance wants to shine more the theatricality of this retelling of A Christmas Carol does provide enough interest and style to keep you in place for the majority of the run-time. Even during some of the slower points when the film wants to take time to dwell on multiple successive points.