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The Man Who Invented Christmas
In the third stave of Charles Dickens's morality tale A Christmas Carol, the narrator pithily observes "there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour". Director Bharat Nalluri evidently agrees because his perfectly timed adaptation of Les Standiford's book, about the tumultuous events leading to the publication of Dickens's 1843 novella, is steeped in festive cheer. Putting aside the veracity of the film's title, The Man Who Invented Christmas is a family-friendly jaunt that melds historical fact and literary fantasy a la Shakespeare In Love. The halls of Susan Coyne's script are decked in Victorian-era period detail and unabashed sentimentality, drawing parallels between Dickens's upbringing and Ebenezer Scrooge's painful journey of self-realisation. Downtown Abbey pin-up Dan Stevens adopts a shaggy mane, not too dissimilar from his flowing locks in Beauty And The Beast, as one of the titans of English literature, whose career was in the doldrums before Jacob Marley's ghostly chains rattled in his imagination. Less than two years after Oliver Twist has enchanted readers around the world, Dickens is crippled with self-doubt and facing financial ruin. "My lamp has gone out, I've run out of ideas," he laments to his long-suffering wife Kate (Morfydd Clark), who takes care of their brood with the help of housekeeper Mrs Fisk (Miriam Margolyes). The arrival of a new Irish nursemaid Tara (Anna Murphy) sparks Dickens's creative flow and he visualises a seasonal tale of redemption, which unconsciously draws on his troubled past. In order to fend off debtors before the bell tolls on Christmas, he must write, print and distribute the new book in under six weeks. Good friend John Forster (Justin Edwards) encourages him to meet the seemingly impossible deadline and defy smug literary rival, William Makepeace Thackeray (Miles Jupp). Consigned to his study, Dickens slowly gives birth to Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) and a menagerie of colourful supporting characters. Alas, the quiet of Dickens's London home is shattered by the unwelcome arrival of his silver-tongued father (Jonathan Pryce) and mother (Ger Ryan). Tempers fray and wife Kate doles out painful home truths to her spouse. "Sometimes I feel your characters matter more to you than your own flesh and blood," she rages. The Man Who Invented Christmas is both comforting and achingly familiar, wringing out decent laughs in scenes where Plummer's acid-tongued curmudgeon belittles and undermines the author, who gave birth to him. On more than one occasion, the film cheerfully recites the book's uplifting final sermon - "God bless us, every one" - to emphasise the importance of selflessness, generosity and compassion as the icy grasp of winter tightens. The overriding tone is saccharine, so audiences won't need to buy anything from the concessions stand to get a full-blast sugar fix.