Bharat Nalluri's new film The Man Who Invented Christmas is a spirited fiction about the creation of the fiction that created our idea of the holiday. Here, a dashing young Dickens (an earnest Dan Stevens) races against the clock to find an ending for his Christmas Carol. Despite having hit on the idea of the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, he just can't conceive of a way to unthaw the heart of that miser Scrooge. The film's sprightly evocations of Victorian London tend toward the cheery and pristine, the proudly stagebound; Nalluri's emphasis is on amateur theatrical performances, magic-lantern projections and comically competitive authors. (William Thackeray can quote chapter and verse the bad reviews of Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit.)
In this telling, Dickens begins composing A Christmas Carol under intense deadline pressure, with no idea what he's going to write. But London still comes to his rescue: Dickens encounters a miser, hits on "Humbug!" and soon, in his study, conceives of the name Scrooge. At that point, Christopher Plummer appears in full-Scrooge getup — black coat, black hat, countenance as sourly lined as in John Leech's original illustrations. Plummer is marvelous as he expectorates the man's spiteful opinions.
It builds, of course, to a crisis of the soul in a cemetery, and then to feasts and good cheer and the Victorian fad of decorating trees indoors. It never argues that Dickens invented Christmas, precisely. But I wish it had an argument about why Christmas needed inventing — and why the great author believed that men's hearts needed to change.