this ain’t your mother’s “A Christmas Carol”: a flash review

“… If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with Merry Christmas on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

Thus says the famous miser in Dickens’ 1843 novella. And it is in the gloom embodied by this statement that the creators of the recent BBC production must have taken their inspiration. The paces that Scrooge is put through have the clear intention of boiling him in all the consequences of his own exploitive and inhumane practices.

For the first time in my life, I have read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Throughout my childhood, I experienced this story mostly through watching my uncle play Marley or Scrooge or Bob Cratchit in a variety of on-stage productions. I was also well-acquainted with Dickens’ famous ghost story through the 1984 production with George C. Scott as Scrooge.

Reading the story in its original form was rewarding in its own way—e.g. the vivid descriptions of the sights and sounds of Scrooge’s little pocket of London in the 1840s were a gift to the numerous stage and screen directors who have treated the story over the years. But what was truly rewarding upon finishing the novella yesterday evening was watching the 2019 production of the tale, starring Guy Pearce as Scrooge. The show was originally presented as a 3-part miniseries. But since my Christmas shopping and wrapping was done, I watched the entire 2 hours 53 minutes in one sitting. And it immediately occurred to me that this ain’t your mother’s A Christmas Carol.

Suffice it to say that this version leans all the way into the ghost story and goes even further to depict the absolute horrors of human misery at the hands of imperialism, a legacy the British and American audiences still grapple with—hopefully in meaningful ways. In a stroke of genius, Steven Knight (writer) takes great liberty at filling in the novella’s ambiguity about Scrooge’s past and present business exploits; the result is a stunning frankness about the depravity of humanity.

The themes starkly depicted in the 2019 rendition—exploitation, unsafe labor practices, unethical business practices, the consequences of unfettered capitalism, slavery, and sexual coercion—would have made Dickens both proud and appalled: Dickens would have applauded the 2019 production’s way of speaking truth to power; paradoxically, Dickens would have loathed to see that the themes he treated throughout his literary career are just as relevant today.

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