6 Must-See Versions of “A Christmas Carol”
There have been approximately twenty-one movie adaptations of A Christmas Carol Charles Dicken’s classic tale of redemption. There have been eighteen TV adaptations and an additional nine that were broadcast live in the 1940s and 50s. For many people, like myself, it remains a cherished tradition to watch A Christmas Carol every year on TV. I go one step farther and get rather maudlin: I re-read the story every single Christmas season.
What is it about Dicken’s story about the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge that pulls at our heart strings? It might be its damning social commentary on the Victorian treatment of the poor, ill and disenfranchised that still carries weight today some 172 year later. It might be the reminder that people always have the capacity to change. It might be the message to treat our fellow humans with kindness and gratitude at this time of year and all the year through, because as they say, ‘you can’t take it with you’.
I don’t have a definitive answer but I know that there is something timeless about Dicken’s tale that we find heart warming and poignant at this time of the year. There are so many versions of this story floating around that it made it incredibly difficult to choose, but here are my six selections if you’re in the mood to marathon Scrooge over the holiday season.
Scrooge (1935): Sir Seymour Hicks – Scrooge Twice!
This is my least favourite adaptation of the tale, but it’s on my list because it’s fascinating to watch. It’s the earliest watchable version, and in spite of its grainy quality, it’s quite good. There are two earlier versions, one from 1901 and another from 1913, but they are silent films, and very truncated accounts of the story. This story also differs in that the ghosts (other than the Ghost of Christmas Present), don’t appear onscreen. They make their presence known as disembodied voices; even Marley is just a voice howling at Scrooge.
Another interesting thing to note is the length of time it takes for the story to kick into full gear. This movie is the shortest of the six adaptations, at one hour from beginning to end, but it has the longest introduction. It shows various scenes in and around London, highlighting the disparity between the rich and the poor. Some of the best parts were cut out of this retelling, such as Fezziwig’s scenes. He’s missing entirely, and that’s a sequence I really enjoy from Scrooge’s youth.
Sir Seymour Hicks (1871-1949) plays Scrooge and does a fantastic job – he’s actually one of the nastier Scrooges of the films listed here. Cool fact: Hicks has “Scrooged” twice! He also played the repentant miser in the 1913 British silent film version of A Christmas Carol before reprising the role twenty-two years later.
Scrooge (1951): Alastair Sim – The Classic
I love this classic, and Alastair Sim nails it. While there is a colourized version, I preferred to watch the black and white original. There are many extra scenes that are nice touches, such as Scrooge being cruel to one of his debtors over £20, Fezziwig selling the business to an unscrupulous businessman named Jorkin, (who is later accused of embezzlement), and Scrooge meeting Jacob Marley for the first time, then taking over Fezziwig’s business. I’m not sure why, but they changed Scrooge’s love interest, “Belle” in the book, to “Alice” here.
Sim is excellent as a particularly cruel Scrooge, in one of my favourite scenes, he refuses to see his dying friend and partner until he finishes the work day, and once he does finally make it to say goodbye, Marley has ominous words of warning for Scrooge foreshadowing the spirits visit to him seven years later.
The special effects were pretty good for the time but it doesn’t matter one bit – it’s the acting that carries the day here. Of all the Scrooges, I like the tenderness of Sim once he changes his tune at the end, for me, it’s the most endearing of the six.
Scrooge (1970): Albert Finney – The Musical
Sing along with Scrooge? Why not! I’m not normally a fan of musicals, but I actually liked this version of A Christmas Carol. It’s a good mix of singing and storytelling. Of the six Scrooges, Finney’s in my least favourite but I still think its worthwhile to watch because it’s an odd story to put to music.
It’s very different from the other versions, there is really no comparison. A singing Scrooge, collecting money from his debtors isn’t something you see everyday. Also, his song “I Hate People, I Loathe People” is something I like to hum quietly in my head as I ride the tube to work every morning. It’s a very fitting song for commuting in London.
Some of my favourite scenes in this one: The scene at Fezziwigs, it’s the best of all the versions. I can’t get the “December the 25th” song out of my head; you can’t stop it, it’s just too catchy. The dancing is fantastic too, you can’t help bobbing along. Scrooge’s mournful song about Belle was a nice touch as well, you get to see so much more of their courtship in a series of happy flashback scenes in this version. I also love when she drops her engagement ring on his money scale, followed by a few shillings, to make her point that his love of money is more than his love for her.
One complaint: The absence of “Ignorance” and “Want” during the visit with the Ghost of Christmas Present is noticeable. I guess it’s hard to sing a cheerful song about those two, but it’s an important scene missing from this version. The sequence of Scrooge in his new office in Hell, welcomed by Jacob Marley is humorous – it was a nice addition. All in all, if it’s a singing Scrooge you want, then this is the version to watch.
A Christmas Carol (1984): George C. Scott – The New Classic
This is the second favourite version on my list, and it’s because of George C. Scott. Unlike the other Scrooges, he’s not a skinny, hunched over, miserly old man; he’s big, intimidating, gruff, and a ruthless business man.
Some moments to note: I love the faces of the Crachit children when Bob Crachit toasts Mr. Scrooge. They make faces like they’re toasting Satan or smell something bad at the mention of his name. In the other versions, the reaction of the children (as described in the book) is bypassed or they look happy, not here, they clearly dislike Scrooge.
This version is also interesting because it has a poignant scene featuring Scrooge’s father. He clearly detests Ebenezer and only allows him to come home for Christmas with Fan for three days before sending him off to apprentice with Fezziwig. Of all the non-animated spirits, The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in this version always scared me as a child – there is a horrible screeching sound that accompanies its presence and his answers to Scrooge’s questions. The thing looks like one of the Ring Wraiths straight out of The Lord of the Rings!
Scott really suits the role of Scrooge and I was torn between Sim and Scott because both are excellent misers, but in the end, Scott won out for his portrayal by a hair’s breadth. He’s a very dry, caustic Scrooge, and also, this is the version I remember most growing up. It was always on TV at Christmas time, so when I picture Scrooge, I always picture George C. Scott.
Cool fact: Clive Doner, who edited the 1951 version with Alastair Sim, directed this one!
A Christmas Carol (1999): Patrick Stewart – To Boldly Go Where No Scrooge Has Gone Before!
Did someone let Captain Picard loose on the holodeck again?
This one is by far my favourite of the six selections. Not popular, I know, since most people favour the Alastair Sim or the George C. Scott versions. I love Star Trek, so it’s no surprise I was over the moon with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge.
Aside from my love of Patrick Stewart, this is one of the most detailed versions of Dicken’s tale. Stewart does an amazing job at Scrooge; it was a role made for him. He got the role after appearing on stage doing readings as Scrooge.
A couple things to note: One of my favourite passages is dropped almost entirely: Jacob Marley’s speech about mankind,“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”. I love that line, and they removed 90% of it. Also, the scene with Belle, her children, and her husband was left out, and Scrooge’s sister, Fan is “Fran” here.
One of the things I really loved about this version was Scrooge and the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Present. This film kept in the Ghost of Christmas Present flying across the world, to the lighthouse, the ship, and the jail, sprinkling blessings upon those who need it most.
One drawback for me: The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is the least scary to me, it looks like an oversized Jawa. If you think I’m kidding, google “Jawa” then look at the above picture. It also doesn’t help matters that it has a human, not spectral or skeletal hand. The rest of this made-for-TV movie was fantastic.
A Christmas Carol (2009): Jim Carey – Scrooge Animated!
I’ve included this film because I wanted to add something really recent and have at least one animated version on the list. This movie is beautifully done – and of the six, it has my favourite opening sequence. The camera zooms over snowy, Victorian London, and shows us a city teaming with life; full of hawkers, rakes, children, carollers, rich and poor.
This version is quite dark for an animated movie that’s meant for kids. It definitely has its funny, light hearted moments, but in this one, Jacob Marley and the spirits are the most frightening and creepy of the other versions. Granted, animators have the technology at their disposal now, but even aside from that, it has a noticeably darker tone. Some of my favourite sequences tend to be on the creepy side, like the the death of the Ghost of Christmas Present. It was like a bad acid trip for poor Scrooge, but a very eerie and well done scene for a cartoon. Another frightening scene has Scrooge being chased by the undead-demon carriage when he encounters the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. While the movie relies heavily on spectacular special effects, it’s still a good addition to the Christmas Carol canon and doesn’t distract from the story.
I was initially worried that this would be terrible – I could never picture Jim Carey as Ebenezer Scrooge, but he does a great job. His likeness can be seen clearly in Scrooge’s face; and the transformation is truly incredible. Hats off to Carey for also voicing all three spirits. Same with Gary Oldman, who voiced Bob Crochet, Tiny Tim and Jacob Marley. Scrooge’s nephew is voiced by none other than “Mr. Darcy” himself, Colin Firth; it was definitely a star-studded cast. What’s really neat you can see a remarkable likeness to the actor playing each character. For an animated version – this is my winner.