Opening Wednesday, Nov. 22
This pleasant holiday surprise is a heartfelt, clever British import that tells the story of Charles Dickens writing the classic yuletide novella A Christmas Carol. Similar to Goodbye Christopher Robin, the recent drama about A. A. Milne, The Man Who Invented Christmas purports to reveal the details behind a literary phenomenon. But whereas the Milne film is overstuffed and heavy, the Dickens tale is agreeably fanciful and light.
Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) plays the author as a gently nutty genius who collects ideas in his ever-present notepad. The central conceit is that, once he has created and named a character, it comes to life as a kind of perpetual hallucination, hanging around his writing desk and offering unsolicited suggestions.
That clever little twist brings us the unalloyed delight of watching Christopher Plummer riff on the immortal character of Ebenezer Scrooge. In this movie, Scrooge knows he's a literary legend. He likes it that way, and he delights in taunting his creator. The upside for Dickens is that he doesn't need to invent dialogue. He just transcribes the abuse of his imaginary friend.
Fittingly, the film's version of nineteenth-century London has a storybook charm, and director Bharat Nalluri composes images that resemble Victorian illustrations breaking out of their frames.
Recovering English majors will enjoy the references to Dickens's other works and the real biographical details. There's nothing like a good Thackeray joke, I always say. Kids will be bored silly, but grown-ups will want this one in Christmas-movie rotation for years to come.