We all have our favourite film version of this Dickens story, perhaps it’s the one we grew up with or watched with our parents as a yearly ritual. Although often just taken as a bit of Christmas fun, this version is probably one which some look forward to the most because as a musical it uplifts us and gets us in the mood for joyful festivities more than any other. It has an amazing cast who give us an extraordinary mixture of resentment, pity, joy and humour to get us in the mood for a traditional Dickensian Christmas.
The illustrations in the opening credits by Ronald Searle immediately get us in the mood for the festivities, although we know we are in for a serious message as this is Dickens and his work is grim albeit often tinged with humour.
The story, of course, is that of the old miser who pushes away all those around him because of his own bitterness, accentuated by the cut throat atmosphere of Christmas in Victorian London. Ebenezer Scrooge (Albert Finney) is portrayed typically as a hunched up old miser but is more ragged in his appearance than in some productions of this story, and immediately gives off an aura of repulsion with his tramp like persona.
Singing children taunt Scrooge as he makes his way through the snow filled streets on Christmas Eve collecting the money he is owed, and we wonder how a man of wealthy means could end up with such a miserable attitude. Although a musical with substantial humour this film never loses its credibility of the message of the fact that we are all part of humanity and Scrooge presents an individual who isolates himself from it all.
As Scrooge arrives home the ghostly image of a horse and carriage travels down the hallway, we get a taste of what imagery is about to come within this film, the driver shouting “Merry Christmas guv`nor, merry Christmas” before he disappears through the closed door into the cold. Although fazed by this and locking himself into his parlour, Scrooge quickly recovers, the vision was no more than a greeting and probably an illusion at that, but the haunting of Scrooge is about to get personal.
Enter the ghost of Jacob Marley (Alec Guinness) chained and bound for his sins here on earth. Scrooge puts the vision down to feeling out of sorts, a bit of stomach trouble and Marley is the result of an undigested piece of beef. This is probably not Guinness’s best film performance, he holds back some of his normal screen charisma, but he is there and moves the story along. The scene has humour and Guinness certainly works well with the special effects that surround him.
As the night goes on we see the arrival of the ghost of Christmas past (Edith Evans) who looks stunning and gives off an aura of a school mistress as she takes Scrooge back to his childhood. The flashbacks pull at the heartstrings more than any other production of this story as we realise Scrooges love for his sister and his affection for the jolly Mr Fezziwig (Laurence Naismith) his former employer, and his wife Mrs Fezziwig (Kay Walsh). We are drawn into the ball held by the Fezziwigs with a rendition of the song `December the twenty fifth,` a song to cheer and uplift a community brought together for the celebrations, and indeed the celebrations uplift the viewer, but we wonder why Scrooge is being shown this piece of joyous nostalgia.
The reason we are taken here is that we are shown that Scrooge has fallen in love with the Fezziwigs daughter Isabel (Suzanne Neve). Neve plays Isabel superbly and warms the cockles of this film, she portrays her character with a delightful grace it is a shame that we come to pity the relationship between the two as Scrooge neglects her for his want of money.
The ghost of Christmas present (Kenneth More) is a sight to see. He must be the most elaborate of any Dickens character to be portrayed on screen a giant over powering character who wears a Christmas crown and a long beard from which a loud booming singing voice emerges. More certainly takes over the screen with his presence and brings entertainment as well as authority to the film.
As Scrooge is whisked into his surreal world, into the house of his poor employee Bill Cratchet (David Collings) by his temporary guide, we see the family making the most of the run up to Christmas. Mrs Cratchet (Frances Cuka) is well cast as the homely wife who resents Scrooge for the way he treats her husband. Of course the Cratchets have more on their mind with the sickly Tiny Tim (Richard Beaumont), as Scrooge realises their suffering he begins to think about their plight and we see the forthcoming change in Scrooge, a symbol of self indulgence but at this point in the production, with a glimmer of humanity shining through.
Enter the ghost of Christmas yet to come (Paddy Stone) and certainly yet to come is the most famous scene of the entire film. The ghost has Scrooge cowering on the floor but is elated as he is taken to the crowd gathered in the street who give us that famous rendition of `Thank you very much` and jollity overtakes the street of London. Scrooge of course thinks that this outburst of elation is to thank him for being a fine friend within their community as he misses Tom Jenkins (Anton Rodgers) above the crowd dancing on Scrooge’s impending wooden overcoat. Rogers give his all in this classic piece of entertainment and lights up our screens with festive cheer at the expensive of a rotten old miser who bit by bit is beginning to see the error of his ways.
Unusually for a film production of this story Marley reappears to take Scrooge to his potential office down in the depths of hell. Marley, given the job because no-one else wanted to do it, terrifies Scrooge into remorse, but we must all make up our own mind as to what has changed him so, the fear of hell and damnation or has he really seen the error of his ways?
This production is fun and will make you smile more than any other version, of course the tale of Scrooge and the other characters in this story will also pull at the heartstrings, but overall it is good light entertainment but as in all versions it makes us think about ourselves and how other people see us. So, get this film for your collection, its worth it just to watch it once a year to get that warm uplifting feeling on Christmas morning.