Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser
Ghosts of Christmas classic spread plenty of festive cheer
In cinema history, A Christmas Carol – the 1843 anti-capitalist novella by Charles Dickens – rates among the most frequently adapted stories for film and television with a summation of 24 film versions dating back to 1901, and more than eight animated versions, with new adaptations appearing regularly.
The 1951 British version of Scrooge stars Scotland’s brilliant character actor Alistair Sim in the titlular role of the ill-tempered old miser who regards Christmas as “humbug”. He finds redemption following a visit from three spirits, the ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future, in what is widely regarded as his finest performance.
The world of Charles Dickens is populated with wonderfully memorable characters and A Christmas Carol is a perennially popular festive fantasy drama with universal appeal.
The production, with a quintessential British cast directed by Brian Desmond Hurst – who was hailed as Northern Ireland’s best film director – is a beloved classic celebrating the joy of the festive season.
Although there will always be a dispute over which is Alistair Sim’s finest screen performance, there’s little doubt as to which is the best known.
His 1951 characterisation of notorious curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge is not only generally regarded as definitive, it is also the only one of his films to achieve wide circulation in America, where it became a Christmas television regular to rival The Wizard of Oz.
There it was known by the title of Dickens’ original story A Christmas Carol but in Britain, it was named Scrooge after the lead character. And rightly so, because despite the stellar cast and a middle section where he is temporarily usurped by George Cole playing his younger self, this is Sim’s film from start to finish.
The Victorian London setting is effectively staged, creating an atmospheric white Christmas, contrasting with the altogether harsher impression of the poverty and difficult times in Dickens’ literary classic.
In 1954 the two talented stars appeared in The Belles of St Trinian’s, the first of several British comedies featuring the girls of St Trinian’s school. Sim played the dual role of the school headmistress
Amelia Fritton, and her brother Clarence, with Cole as Flash Harry.
For several decades Hollywood was the dominant force in movie musical productions. However, it was unexpected and ironic that the last of the large-scale screen musicals were made in Britain and based on famous stories by Dickens.
Oliver (1968), the winner of six Oscars including best picture, played at the Leicester Square Odeon in London for 90 weeks.
Scrooge (1970) is a delightful musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol, with Albert Finney in the titular role, supported by a best of British cast, notably Alec Guinness, Edith Evans, Kenneth More, Laurence Naismith and Michael Medwin, with a fabulous ensemble of over a thousand extras.
The era of Dickensian London was painstakingly recreated on soundstage H at Shepperton, one of the largest in Europe. The elaborate sets constructed were designed by Terry Marsh, whose work on Oliver gave him valuable experience for Scrooge.
As Albert Finney was in his 30s, he could play the younger and older Scrooge. It took two hours every morning to transform Finney from a youthful 33 to a wrinkled old man, and an hour each evening to remove his make-up.
His hair was flattened down and a bald cap was placed over it, then a wig of wispy hair was put on top. Layers of plastic skin were put around his eyes and on his hands to make them look wrinkled, and his make-up was blended in with the plastic additions.
His teeth were stained yellow to complete the unsavoury effect. Creating the role of Scrooge was a formidable experience as Finney recalled: “I had spent three years turning down scripts, but Scrooge revived my interest in acting.
“I found the role of the thoroughly mean businessman more challenging than some of my earlier roles, which did not really show my considerable versatility.”
Directed by Ronal Neame, with a spinning musical score, Scrooge is an uplifting, highly entertaining film that vividly captures the true meaning and spirit of Christmas.
Scrooge has found a new lease on life every year around Christmas when it is broadcast on British television.