This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Travis McClain’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
When I asked some of my friends what their favorite version of A Christmas Carol is, two of them named this one. In truth, I believe this was the first time I had ever watched the movie...but I know it was not my first exposure to it.
See, I vividly recall one night as a child trying to stay up late and catch Santa Claus. So I holed up in the living room on the couch and tried to find something to watch on TV. This was probably the latest I had ever stayed up, and certainly the latest I had ever watched TV. I found the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, just as Darth Vader is introduced aboard his Star Destroyer bridge. I flipped to the next channel and found Ebenezer Scrooge confronting his own grave in this version of A Christmas Carol. I turned off the TV and went to my room.
Of the versions I've seen, this one strikes perhaps the finest balance between hitting the important points without being perfunctory. George C. Scott's performance is perfectly measured; he's imposing, to be sure, but watching his inner happiness reawakened by his experiences with the three spirits is both believable and enjoyable. There's a shot of him observing the party thrown by old Fezziwig, his foot tapping in midair and an unconscious smile on his face that, even though it was scripted and surely rehearsed and performed repeatedly to get that shot, still feels spontaneous.
It's really in the transformation of Scrooge that each adaptation defines itself. Seymour Hicks, for instance, is defined as the cranky Scrooge who capitulates in the end; Alistair Sim is the latent, happy Scrooge unearthed from his slumber. Scott's Scrooge is somewhere between the two, defined less by where he began or ended and more by the moments in which he is confronted with his own life. At times, this take on Dickens calls to mind Bergman's Wild Strawberries.
Funnily enough, despite all the times I've read, seen, or heard some version of the story, it wasn't until viewing this adaptation that I ever questioned why miserly, frugal Ebeneezer Scrooge has a second sitting chair in his bedchamber. Obviously, he has to have somewhere for Jacob Marley to sit, but there's no other reason for there to be a second chair there at all. I can't even convince myself that it was a holdover from when he and the living Marley would commiserate off the clock in those chairs; surely they would both have been of the mind that whatever they had to discuss could wait until business hours.
The adaptation fumbles a bit in its Yet to Come act, though. The scavenging family is too conspicuously melodramatic, especially since the source material already included the young couple relieved that Scrooge's death will buy them enough time to come up with the money to cover their debt. There is no clear connection between this family (whose father is not a thief!) and Scrooge.
It's an admittedly curious thing to say about an adaptation of this particular story, but its only real dings are when it gets to be too preachy. Dickens' preaching was more than sufficient. Inserting things like the "I want to work!" father feel inorganic, like displays of a lack of trust that the source material was clear enough about its message.
But it works overall in large part because so much of it is faithful to Dickens and lets his scathing dialogue and sympathetic characters speak to us.
How A Christmas Carol Entered My Flickchart
A Christmas Carol > Clueless --> #805
A Christmas Carol > Far and Away --> #403
A Christmas Carol < Star Wars --> #403
A Christmas Carol > Two-Lane Blacktop --> #301
A Christmas Carol > WereWolf of London --> #251
A Christmas Carol > Kind Hearts and Coronets --> #226
A Christmas Carol > The 39 Steps --> #214
A Christmas Carol > Transformers: Dark of the Moon --> #207
A Christmas Carol < Star Trek: Insurrection --> #207
A Christmas Carol > Superman --> #205
A Christmas Carol entered my Flickchart at #205/1609