Dan Stevens turns in a vibrant comic performance as Charles Dickens in this drama about writerly inspiration that plays like a smarter Shakespeare in Love.
If you can suspend your disbelief—as The Man Who Invented Christmas wants you to—and roll with the idea that finding inspiration for a novel is a lot like being on safari, a deeper movie comes into view. Prowling around a somewhat stagey Victorian London, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens, modern and likable) grapples with his debts and bad reviews. He also receives iffy table service from a teetering, ghostly waiter called Marley, and overhears a random cheapskate who barks “”Humbug!” Soon enough, Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer, born to this) comes into view, the character invading the author’s study like a devil on his shoulder, and A Christmas Carol begins to takes shape.
The storyline—will Charles make his publishing deadline?—is the least interesting thing here. Instead, as directed by Indian-born TV journeyman Bharat Nalluri, the movie vaults into a psychological realm that plumbs the same subtext of Dickens’s book itself: Do we notice those less fortunate? Can we overcome our own egos, daddy issues and the weaknesses of others to find charity in our hearts? In toddling its way to a perfectly decent family film, The Man Who Invented Christmas stumbles upon something more profound: Truly universal art is a response to the world around you. It pushes its hero off his pedestal but delivers him—like Tom Hulce’s Mozart in Amadeus—to a much better place, the earthy company of fellow citizens who dream of being inspired.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
Cast and crew