In 1951 Alastair Sim appeared in a movie called A Christmas Carol based on Charles’ Dickens Christmas classic. Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst, the movie has become the definitive film edition of Dickens novel for many fans. While it is not completely faithful to Dickens’ text, the movie is almost faithful to Dickens’ intentions and point of view.
Adding to a Classic
Very little of value was left out of the movie A Christmas Carol, however, much was added. Among the scenes added to the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is a scene where Scrooge defends Fezziwig’s beliefs against a Mr. Jorkin who is seeking to buy out Fezziwig’s company. Later Mr. Jorkin succeeds in taking over Fezziwig’s company and Marley and Scrooge go to work for him. When Mr. Jorkin is discovered embezzling funds from the company and putting it deeply in debt, Scrooge and Marley implement a plan to cover his debts and gain controlling stock in the company. While these scenes don’t have the same feel as scenes that are taken from the novel, they do not hurt the story. In addition, they provide a visible character development arc.
Other scenes that were added to the movie do very little to enhance the movie. During his visit to the past, the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to Fan’s deathbed. It is a short scene and does little to improve the plot.
An interesting deathbed scene for Marley was added to the movie, during which Marley tries to tell Scrooge that their lifestyle is wrong and that Scrooge should save himself. However, Marley dies before can complete his warning and so Scrooge is left only with questions that have no answers
Rewriting the Story
There are two significant and rather strange changes to the story. The first is the change of Belle’s name to Alice. The second change focuses on Alice as well. Rather than marry, raise children, and become a contented matron; Alice remains single. When the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to see Alice the last time, Alice is working at a shelter providing comfort to those whose lives are ruined.
While this change will appeal to romantics who live for unrequited love, it isn’t true to the book or to the Victorian Era. During Dickens’ time, women almost always chose to marry over remaining single. There was security in marriage that could not be obtained in any other way. Consequently, Belle/Alice’s choice to marry is much more truthful to life than for her to work as a single woman in a homeless shelter.
While the plot isn’t always true to the book, the mood is. Many have argued that Dickens’ is a humanist and that Christ is not in his work. This is true. However, in his adaptation of the book Noel Langley made an interesting parallel between the spirits and the Jesus. The Ghost of Christmas Present tells Scrooge that they are alive and working in mankind 365 days a year, just as the baby born in Bethlehem is alive and working in mankind throughout the year. At first glance, this may seem completely out of character. However, when one realizes that Dickens was a Unitarian, it seems a plausible addition to the Ghost’s lines.
Langley’s understanding of Dickens is underscored by these lines, which are effectively delivered by Sim “I’m too old and beyond hope. Go and redeem some younger and more promising creature and leave me be to keep Christmas in my own way.” It is not the redemption that would be understood as a salvation moment by Protestant Christians but it is for a Universalist.
The movie, A Christmas Carol, is beautifully rendered in black and white and comes from an era when strong light and even stronger shadows were understood and used effectively. Unlike today’s movies where everything has fill-light and deep shadows are seldom seen, this movie uses light and darkness very effectively.
Alastair Sim is a wonderfully nuanced Scrooge. He uses both his body language and his striking eyes to convey Scrooge’s mood. In some ways it is hard to compare his role to modern interpretations because acting, filming, and expectations are so entirely different when one views a modern version. However, if one allows the past to be what it is, Sims portrayal is among the best.
Michael Hordern deserves recognition for his acting in the movie as Marley and as Marley’s ghost. His portrayal as the ghost is particularly well done. There is one moment where the melodramatic stage actor in Hordern comes to the surface but otherwise, his portrayal as Marley might just be the best.
A Movie for All Who Love Scrooge’s Story
This adaptation is not the strictest interpretation of the book and for those who wish to understand the book better through viewing a movie or for those who want a strict interpretation of the book for the sake of Dickens’ genius, this adaptation will not satisfy. However, for those who are willing to look past the changes to the plot and look at the heart of the story this version of A Christmas Carol deserves recognition.