276. A Christmas Carol (US/Canada 1971)

Director: Richard Williams

Starring: Alastair Sim (Scrooge), Michael Hordern (Marley), Michael Redgrave (Narrator).

Music: Tristram Carey

Short Story: Charles Dickens

Minor Roles: Joan Sims (Mrs Cratchit), Melyyn Hayes (Bob Cratchit - Albert from The Double Deckers!), Diana Quick (The Ghost of Christmas Past)

 In one line: Miser's soul is redeemed by ghostly visitations.

Summary

Ebeneezer Scrooge hates Christmas because of its associations with his tragic childhood and unfulfilled youth. He is visited by the ghosts of his former business partner Jacob Marley. 

Marley says Scrooge will be visited by three ghosts - they will show him a new path. If he does not change his ways, his soul will be damned and he will walk for all eternity like Marley.

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Like The Great Escape, this version of Dickens' short story was a perennial Christmas favourite for kids growing up in the seventies.

Sim and Marley reprise their roles from the 1951 film Scrooge. This version is much, much better than the supposedly much-loved, but actually very poor and almost forgotten black and white British movie.

Williams' 1971 short film version is a very dark and often very scary piece of animation and much closer to the spirit of Dickens' original. The animated style is often inspired by John Leech's original engraved illustrations and by Milo Winter's illustrations from a 1934 edition of the book.

Although made for TV, A Christmas Carol was considered so good and so 'cinematic' that it enjoyed a theatrical release and went on to win the Oscar for the best short film of 1971. 

The film doesn't shy away from showing the ghastly poverty of the age and its examination of metaphysical matters (particularly the loneliness of death and the possibility of a haunted afterlife) is very impressive.

The scariest scene is when The Ghost of Christmas Present (Felix Felton) reveals the ghastly spectres beneath its robe; they are the filthy, skeletal figures of an urchin girl ('Want') and boy  ('Ignorance') The ghost tells Scrooge to beware them both, but particularly the boy. 

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge a dismal, frightening future. Scrooge's lonely headstone inhabits a forgotten corner of the graveyard and we hear the screeching voices of old crones as they divide up Scrooge's pitiful possessions.

The redemption scenes are nowhere near as interesting as the frightening voyage of discovery. The death of Cratchit's son Tiny Tim is averted; Cratchit is given a raise and Scrooge learns how to 'keep' Christmas better than any man on Earth. Somehow (for me), this just doesn't sit well with the rest of the film (obviously it's the same in the story), but for the majority of its very brief running time, this is a superb little film.

There have been many versions of this creepy and very odd Victorian ghost story. There's a truly terrible 1935 version (Scrooge) starring the virtually forgotten Seymour Hicks; the (almost) equally bad version from 1951 with Sim and Hordern and a very rubbish musical with Albert Finney making a show of himself singing such timeless classics as 'I Hate People' and the brilliant 'You...You' (for fuck's sake - my parentheses). Any film that casts the great Roy Kinnear as 'Portly Gentleman' and then doesn't deliver the comedic goods deserves to have its negative destroyed.

The 2009 3D version is fairly good and fairly scary and I remember thinking that The Muppets' A Christmas Carol was actually a better version of the story than the three mentioned in the paragraph above.

The worst of all the versions of ACC is (without doubt) Patrick Stewart's appalling Hallmark-funded monstrosity from 1999. Spray on snow, made without conviction and boasting a terrible lead performance from a miscast Stewart, it's a castrated, dishonest version of a brilliant, cautionary tale. Avoid at all costs.

Richard Williams' excellent version has all but disappeared from British screens and is not available on DVD.

A pity, because it's the best film version of A Christmas Carol by a long, long way.

 9/10