A Christmas Carol Book vs Movie (1984) Review

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A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)

A Christmas Carol directed by Clive Donner (1984)

In honor of Christmas week, I am covering my favorite Christmas movie and the book it is based on!

Thoughts on the Book

Despite knowing this story so well through the movies, it was still a very enjoyable read. There was more humor to it than I thought there would be and at times Dickens will break the fourth wall. One example is the beginning when he says, “Marley was dead as a doornail…” he goes on to say, “Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I  might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But  the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will, therefore, permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”

It is also such a short read; you can literally finish this in one sitting! It is just such a great story, and it’s no wonder it has been adapted countless times and literally everyone knows the story of Ebenezer Scrooge!

Movie

This is actually a made for tv movie, though it did have a theater release in the UK. It took ten years for it to be released on VHS! Then of course later on DVD.

This is the version my family would watch during Christmas, so I am partial to it for sentimental reasons. It really is well done though and has a great soundtrack! That main song is wonderful.

Acting

George C. Scott in my mind is Scrooge. I love his performance so much! This is one of the few (maybe only…?) adaptations where Scrooge isn’t wearing his pajamas. For one, in the book he was still dressed, though he had a robe on, but I also read that Scott simply didn’t want to film a whole movie in a nightgown.

Scrooge, of course, says humbug when he is wished a Merry Christmas. “The word “humbug” is misunderstood by many people… It describes deceitful efforts to fool people by pretending to a fake loftiness or false sincerity. So when Scrooge calls Christmas a humbug, he is claiming that people only pretend to charity and kindness in a scoundrel effort to delude him, each other, and themselves. In Scrooge’s eyes, he is the one man honest enough to admit that no one really cares about anyone else, so for him, every wish for a Merry Christmas is one more deceitful effort to fool him and take advantage of him. This is a man who has turned to profit because he honestly believes everyone else will someday betray him or abandon him the moment he trusts them.”

This seems worse, because he has this self-righteousness about it, thinking everyone is being fake. Negative people tend to have this outlook, as if the positive people are all phoneys, because they can’t comprehend how someone could genuinely feel that way.

David Warner is Bob Cratchit. He actually has more of a personality in this movie than he did in the book so I enjoyed that. We also see Tiny Tim waiting outside for him to get off work, which didn’t happen in the movie. But I gotta say, Tiny Tim is this sickly kid yet they are okay with him waiting out in the cold for thirty minutes to an hour??

Angela Pleasence plays the Ghost of Christmas Past. This spirit isn’t said to be a female in the book, but rather is described as, “It was a strange figure-like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white, as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it…”

Edward Woodward is the Ghost of Christmas Present and this spirit has always been my favorite. I love his personality; his joyful disposition, his empathy, his humor, yet along with that, he tells it as it is. I have also always loved the end, when he takes a serious turn and shows him “Ignorance and Want”. Woodward is iconic in this role. He is also shown exactly how the book described him.

In the book, this spirit gets older as their time together progresses, because he ages quickly and will then be gone. I noticed this is shown in other adaptations (specifically the Muppet Christmas Carol, which I love) and that always confused me. Now I know it is a detail only book readers will understand!

When describing this ghost, the book includes the detail, “Girded round its middle was an antique scabbard; but no sword was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up  with rust.” Which I take to mean he doesn’t “battle” or put up a fight. As they walk around, he spreads the Christmas spirit, when two people are arguing he spreads something from his torch and the two people apologize and say how they shouldn’t be arguing on Christmas.

Roger Rees is wonderful as Fred. I’m going to be biased here, as you can see, I have been saying that each person is perfect! But really, each actor truly embodies the character they portray.

There is a line the book describing Fred which reads, “If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to know a man more blessed in a laugh than Scrooge’s nephew, all I can say is, I should like to know him too. Introduce him to me, and I’ll cultivate his acquaintance.” Fred is a great character and even though he makes fun of Scrooge in their Christmas game, which we will talk about later, he truly has a kind heart. He says of Scrooge, “I am sorry for him; I couldn’t be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers by his ill whims? Himself always. Here he takes it into his head to dislike us, and he won’t come and dine with us….” He has the maturity, to understand that he doesn’t need to harbor negative feelings towards his uncle, because his uncle certainly isn’t living it up and having a happy life.

Scrooge personality/humor

This book had more humor than I had expected; this is my first time reading Dickens, so I don’t know if this is common for his writing. One section explains why Scrooge is using humor; when seeing Marley, “’There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!’ Scrooge was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he feel in his heart by any means waggish then. The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his terror; for the spectre’s voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones.”

I also just really enjoyed getting to know Scrooge’s inner thoughts, here is another passage from Marley’s visit when he asks Marley if he would like to sit down, “Scrooge asked the question, because he didn’t know whether a ghost so transparent might find himself in a condition to take a chair; and felt that, in the event of its being impossible, it might involve the necessity of an embarrassing explanation. But the Ghost sat down on the opposite side of the fire-place, as if he were quite used to it.”

Then in book and movie we have the part where the Ghost of Christmas Present says she is there for his welfare and in the book it says, “Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end.” In the movie they have him say this aloud. In the book, even though he merely thought it, the spirit knew what he was thinking.

I thought this movie well conveyed Scrooge’s humor, even though it was a bitter humor at times.

Wanting kind words

In book and movie, there are a few times where Scrooge asks for kind words or some tenderness. I thought this was interesting, they are telling him as it is, and even though they are kind, they are stern. Scrooge isn’t used to be spoken to like that, and obviously doesn’t like it. As would most people, we want to hear positive things, not criticism, even when it’s true and is being told to us to help. Someone as stubborn as Scrooge, and even self righteous considering the true thought behind him saying humbug, doesn’t want to be told he has been wrong in any way.

Marley

Frank Finlay plays Marley in the movie and really plays Marley exactly as described in the book. The book even has the description of the cloth Marley uses to keep his jaw tied shut. When Marley leaves in the book, he opens the window and Scrooge can see other spirits going past, all wailing and miserable. In the movie, we hear the crying and the shrieks but don’t see anything. I thought just having the sound was a nice touch though.

 In the book there is an added scene where Scrooge looks out the window to watch Marley be on his way. He sees Marley notice a woman who needs help, and he wants to help her but no longer can. It reads, “…[he] cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom he saw below upon a doorstep. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the  power for ever.”

Christmas Past

One change with Christmas Past, is that we see Scrooge interact with his dad, whereas in the book he is only talked about. The movie also explains why the dad dislikes him, because the mother died when giving birth to him. I don’t remember this being said in the book.

Christmas Present

With Christmas Present, in the book they see many different homes, whereas in the movie they only see three different ones. The book reads, “Much they saw, and far they went, and many homes they visited, but always with a happy end. The Spirit stood  beside sick-beds, and they were cheerful; on foreign lands, and they were close at home; by struggling men, and they were patient in their greater hope; by poverty, and it was rich. In almshouse, hospital, and goal, in misery’s every refuge, where vain man in his little brief authority had not made fast the door, and barred the Spirit out, he left his blessing, and taught Scrooge his precepts.”

In both, they go to the Cratchit house and when the spirit tells Scrooge Tim will most likely die, the spirit uses Scrooge’s own words, “Let him die and decrease the surplus population!” To which the spirit follows up with, “So perhaps, in the future, you will hold your tongue until you have discovered where the surplus population is, and WHO it is. It may well be that, in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than MILLIONS like this poor man’s child.” The book has a line similar to this as well.

As I said, I love this section and this Spirit has always been my favorite. The movie has the added scene of the family who is homeless which I’ve always felt is such a powerful scene.

In the book, Scrooge notices something that looks like a claw coming from the bottom of the Spirit’s robe, and that is when he is shown Ignorance and Want. The book reading, “They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.  This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware  this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it! ” cried the  Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!” “Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge. “Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?””

This scene is startling in the movie, because though the spirit hasn’t taken it easy on Scrooge, for the most part he has been lighthearted and then here things take a turn. Again, such a great scene in both book and movie. Though I do think the visuals of the movie make it even better.

Fred’s house

The biggest change in regard to going to Fred’s house with the spirit, is the game they play. In the movie they play a game called simile. Fred says, “As tight as…” and his wife guesses, “As tight as your Uncle Ebenezer’s purse strings!”

In the book, they play 21 questions, and the person Fred is describing turns out to be Scrooge. A little different, because in the book Fred is making fun of him in a way, whereas in the book it was his wife making the joke.

Christmas Future

In the book, the third spirit doesn’t talk at all, in the movie they have it make the sound of a screeching gate which really adds to the eeriness.

There is a scene I really liked in the book that wasn’t in the movie I wanted to share. They see the men at the exchange talking about a death, then see the body covered by a sheet, then are taken to the people that stole things from Scrooge’s house and are selling them. Scrooge asks the Spirit to shown him someone who can show some emotion in regard to this man’s death. The Spirit then takes him to a woman who is at home anxiously waiting her husband’s return. When he arrives, she asks what news he has of them being past due on rent and if their landlord has relented. The scene continues, “’He is past relenting,’ said her husband. ‘He is dead.’ She was a mild and patient creature, if her face spoke truth; but she was thankful in her soul to hear it, and she said so with clasped hands. She prayed forgiveness the next moment, and was sorry; but the first was the emotion of her heart. …. and it was a happier house for this man’s death! The only emotion that the Ghost could show him, caused by the event, was one of pleasure.”

In the movie, Scrooge asks to see some emotion and they are taken to the people who are greedy, selling the stolen goods. This was a great scene in the book though to see a family who is relieved at the death of this man who is of course Scrooge.

Cratchit Family

Honestly, the scenes involving the Cratchit household are pretty much the same. The actors who play the family are all excellent and Anthony Walters is perfect as cute Tiny Tim. This was his first time in a movie by the way! He has acted since then, and it seems he has done a lot of behind the scenes work.

Changing views

Of course, as this story goes along, Scrooge begins to see the error of his ways. Viewing the past, he sees what Belle said to him about how he has changed. He tried to justify himself saying, “This is the even-handed dealing of the world!” he said. “There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!” “You fear the world too much,” she answered gently. “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master passion, Gain, engrosses you.”

Though in regard to Fezziwig he does admit that “The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Another interesting part, when first meeting the Ghost of Christmas Present, it reads, “Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit. He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been and, though the Spirit’s eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.”

Earlier in the book, there had been a caroler who had come to his office and Scrooge turned him away. Later he reflects and the books reads, “What is the matter?” asked the Spirit. “Nothing,” said Scrooge. “Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas  Carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that’s all.” Earlier we saw that Marley had this same regret, and now it’s too late for him. Here Scrooge is too late in the case of that specific caroler, but not too late to change from there on out.

Earlier on, he was also more annoyed at the spirits, whereas by the time he gets to the end it reads, “But nothing doubting that, to whomsoever they applied, they had some latent moral for his own improvement, he resolved to treasure up every word he heard, and everything he saw; and especially to observe the shadow of himself when it appeared.”

The movie does a great job showing this and I love the scene at the end. When he says the things about being as giddy as a schoolboy and buying the big turkey for the Cratchits.

Book or Movie

This is my all-time favorite Christmas story, which is why I chose to cover it. As I said, it is no wonder how popular it is was right from the start, and that it is just as popular today.

In terms of comparing, it with this particular adaptation, now I’m probably biased because this version is the one my family would watch every Christmas, but I have to go with the movie. It follows the book so close and conveys the same beautiful message. It also has an eeriness to it in the beginning that I like, and that other adaptations don’t have as much.

The book was a great read though and as I said, Dickens had more humor in there than I had anticipated. Even though it seems wrong to pick the movie over the book which started it all, that’s what I’m going to do. Dickens describes things vividly, and the movie just portrays it all so wonderfully. The set, the wardrobe, the acting, it’s all amazing!

Because there are so many versions of this book, I think it would be fun to make it a tradition to cover it every year! Each year covering yet another adaptation! There is also the book and movie The Man Who Invented Christmas which is about Dickens and how this book came about. I read it a few years ago and remember thinking it was interesting; so maybe I’ll cover that one next year as well.

To wrap things up, I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays) and God Bless Us, Everyone!