Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is probably the work of literature that has been most frequently adapted to the screen that wasn’t written by William Shakespeare. With so many adaptations, it’s probably hard to pick the best. I’d probably put the Muppet version at the top of my list, but aside from that, the 1999 made-for-TV version starring Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge is my number two pick.
The film does an incredible amount right. Richard E. Grant and Patrick Stewart each pull off the roles of Bob Cratchit and Scrooge (respectively) perfectly. The film also includes some elements of the text that often get omitted from other film adaptation – especially the inclusion of Ignorance and Want – the two abandoned children who cling to the Ghost of Christmas Present’s robes. One of the things that I don’t think is often got across in adaptations of Dickens work isn’t that the problem with Scrooge is because he doesn’t like Christmas, but that he’s cruel and heartless to his fellow man, which is demonstrated most during Christmas.
This is most demonstrated when the Ghost of Christmas Present throws Scrooges words and works back in his face – “If they’d better die they’d better do it, and decrease the surplus population!” “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”- along with the inclusion of Ignorance and Want. Most works remember the first, with Tiny Tim (who certainly is the soul of the piece, and who cannot be omitted without disemboweling the work). However, omitting Ignorance and Want sterilizes the work, forgets that Scrooge’s faults aren’t just scrooges – they’re humanity’s. They’re the baser impulses we must resist, in choosing our better angels over our lesser demons. This adaptation remembers them – something so many others (even the Muppet Christmas Carol), forget.
So, if you want an adaptation of A Christmas Carol without its teeth ripped out, definitely check out this version.