Scrooge 18: A Christmas Carol (Patrick Stewart)

scrooge_stewartDVDLike your Dickens by the book?  Then this is the version for you! Even more than the Disney this version starring Patrick Stewart from 1999 is incredibly faithful to the source material even including segments never shown in other versions.  It was made for TNT (kind of amazing it wasn’t even a network) but it has the look of a PBS film for their Masterpiece Theater series.  It is incredibly well cast and all in all I kind of love it.

Trailer:

The Cast:

Patrick Stewart – Ebenezer Scrooge
Richard E. Grant – Bob Cratchit
Joel Grey – Ghost of Christmas Past
Ian McNeice – Albert Fezziwig
Saskia Reeves – Mrs. Cratchit
Desmond Barrit – Ghost of Christmas Present
Bernard Lloyd – Jacob Marley
Dominic West – Fred
Trevor Peacock – Old Joe
Liz Smith – Mrs. Dilber
Elizabeth Spriggs – Mrs. Riggs
Kenny Doughty – Young Ebenezer Scrooge
Laura Fraser – Belle
Celia Imrie – Mrs. Bennett
Claire Slater – Martha Cratchit
Tim Potter – Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

Scrooge- Aside from the Jim Carrey version Patrick Stewart looks the most like Scrooge in the book.  He is supposed to have a pointed noise and for me the bald head screams a low maintenance cold Scrooge.  In the book Scrooge is described as:

“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect.”

For me Stewart has the pointed nose, shrivelled cheeks, stiff gait and grating voice.  It’s so much fun to see something so close to Dickens original vision. I like that he does seem to love his work but there is no attempt to soften him.  This makes the redemption feel all the more real and palatable, like a true conversion. My favorite Scrooge’s are one’s that mirror the conversion of Paul in the Bible.  He may be my favorite Scrooge…

steewart scrooge stewart scroogeDifferences- Honestly there aren’t any differences from the book.  They even include the lighthouse scene that I don’t believe is in any other Christmas Carol movie.  I’ve always thought it was a shame because it is one of the most poetic parts of the book”

“The Spirit did not tarry here, but bade Scrooge hold his robe, and passing on above the moor, sped—whither? Not to sea? To sea. To Scrooge’s horror, looking back, he saw the last of the land, a frightful range of rocks, behind them; and his ears were deafened by the thundering of water, as it rolled and roared, and raged among the dreadful caverns it had worn, and fiercely tried to undermine the earth.

Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some league or so from shore, on which the waters chafed and dashed, the wild year through, there stood a solitary lighthouse. Great heaps of sea-weed clung to its base, and storm-birds—born of the wind one might suppose, as sea-weed of the water—rose and fell about it, like the waves they skimmed.

But even here, two men who watched the light had made a fire, that through the loophole in the thick stone wall shed out a ray of brightness on the awful sea. Joining their horny hands over the rough table at which they sat, they wished each other Merry Christmas in their can of grog; and one of them: the elder, too, with his face all damaged and scarred with hard weather, as the figure-head of an old ship might be: struck up a sturdy song that was like a Gale in itself”

That’s just beautiful and they do it in such a touching way here.  Tim starts singing Silent Night and then we see the lighthouse men singing Silent Night, men on a ship, coal miners.  I wish I could find a clip because I really love it.

Aside from that everything is straight from the book.

Strengths- It reminds me in it’s look and feel of the great BBC miniseries North and South (my favorite book), Little Dorrit, Great Expectations and more.  The lighting, costumes, sets are a beautiful palate and it’s just a pleasant picture to look at.

Patrick-Stewart-13-14-15-coThe cast is uniformly strong with the Cratchit family being one of my favorites of any version.  It feels like a poor family (unlike say the Reginald Owens version) but it feels like an actual family.  They have chemistry together and there is a great warmth to the scenes.

A Christmas Carol Pictures 014 Cratchits 1999Belle is very pretty.  At the party she has a beautiful yellow dress and then when the break up happens we see the change in her and she is no longer in bright clothing.  At the party she is dancing in the snow happy and then she says goodbye in a snowstorm and it is just so lovingly shot and acted.

belle stewartDominic West is very good as Fred and there again is a warmth to him that seems hard to resist.  He’s not as perfectly perky as some versions.

1999-xmas-fred1There is a beautiful moment when Fred and friends are playing their games and Present wants to leave but Scrooge looks at it longingly ‘can we stay another moment.  I haven’t played a game in so long’.   I found that very real and touching almost like a kid looking in a shop window longing for the great toys inside.  It reminds me of the men who dine with Christ not knowing it is Him and they plead with Him to tarry with them a little bit longer.

christmas-carol-1999-patrick-stewart-scrooge-desmond-barrit-ghost-of-christmas-presentThe ending feels like a real religious conversion.  And Stewart laughs the way a man would probably laugh at such a moment.  Most Crazy Scrooge’s don’t feel natural to the character but this does.  Almost more like a sneeze that he can’t help but let out.

stewart windowScrooge goes to church at the end which I always appreciate because it shows it was not just a conversion to a pleasant holiday but that Scrooge has accepted the proclamation of Tiny Tim and embraced Christ.  It’s hard to believe this was a made for cable TV movie in 90s.  It looks much better than that.

The score by Stephen Warbeck is perfect.  One of my favorites.  It’s not trying to be a horror movie with over the top slides and scales but just a subtle, simple score punctuated by First Noel and God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman (and Silent Night as I mentioned) at just the right moments.

Weaknesses- The Fezziwig scene is not my favorite.  It reminds me more of the Thénardiers in Les Mis than Fezziwigs.  They aren’t evil like Thenardiers but just their costumes and boisterousness is overdone. The dancing in the scene is great but just not my favorite Fezziwig’s.  A little too foppish. This is after all supposed to be a successful businessman.

1999-xmas-mr-fezziwigPast and Future could have been better.  Future is your standard grim reaper puppet character and Past by Joel Gray just feels off to me.  A little too cold and collected.  Maybe even too soft spoken.

stewart pastBut all of that are small quibbles in an extremely satisfying picture. Bravo to all involved for creating something truly memorable and that is a favorite of many people.  If you want to get a feel for the book without reading it this is the best one by a long shot in that regard.