THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS (M, 104MINS) DIRECTED BY BHARAT NALLURI
Although clearly billed as festive fare, this Canadian-Irish coproduction actually works best as a biopic of British author Charles Dickens.
When he first meets the literary giant (Dan Stevens), he’s basking in the success of Oliver Twist.
Revered as ‘‘the people’s author’’ and ‘‘the Shakespeare of the novel’’, he’s being feted at balls and galas across America. But while he declares his US hosts as ‘‘friendly, earnest, hospitable, warm-hearted, fervent and enthusiastic’’, truthfully he can’t wait to get back to England.
However, just 16 months later and he’s wishing he was anywhere but old Blighty.
The next three books have all flopped, with critics describing Martin Chuzzlewit as ‘‘dull, vapid and vulgar’’.
Slowing sales means he’s got to start watching his pennies, while even inspiration appears to have deserted him.
With another baby on the way and his feckless father (Jonathan Pryce) causing him no end of grief, others are even suggesting an alterative career may be necessary.
‘‘But I hate the press and the law is an ass,’’ he retorts.
Just when things are looking bleak though, a combination of his Irish maid and some chance encounters spark an idea – a festive fable.
There’s just a few hurdles to overcome first: there’s not much of a market for Christmas books and he’s only got six weeks to write the damn thing and get it into shops.
Based on historian Les Standiford’s book of the same name, The Man Who Invented Christmas benefits mostly from some smart casting and lively pacing from director Nalluri (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day).
Stevens (Downton Abbey, Beauty and the Beast) makes for a charming if somewhat gruff Charles, while Pryce (Game of Thrones) heads a deep bench of class supporting acts that also includes Simon Callow (Four Weddings and a Funeral), Miriam Margolyes (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries), Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and Bill Paterson (last year’s Dad’s Army remake).
Screenwriter Susan Coyne (2016’s non-Netflix Anne of Green Gables tale) does a superb job of juxtaposing Dickens’ flights of fancy with his increasing fraughtness as the deadline approaches.
Likewise, the drama successfully swerves any accusations of being trite or twee (although there are occasional moments when it feels like Shakespeare in Love or a Stephen Moffatt Doctor Who episode) to land in genuinely heartfelt territory.
It might be a movie about Hard Times and one that arrives without Great Expectations, but it is definitely one that deserves to be Hunted Down. – James Croot
Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer star in The Man Who Invented Christmas.