A Christmas Carol

 

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A daringly fresh approach to familiar material yields mixed results.

 
Christmas Carol, A

 

It was with the fine documentary McCullin (2012) that the siblings Jacqui and David Morris first made their mark in cinema and two other documentaries followed which again found them sharing the directorial credit. Their little-known first feature involved actors but their reputation as documentarists makes it somewhat surprising that their latest venture should be this unusual adaptation from Dickens. However, it does have links with their last documentary, 2018's Nureyev, since that work featured dance passages created for the film by the choreographer Russell Maliphant and had music by Alex Baranowski both of whom contribute to A Christmas Carol.

 

The famous story has been treated in many a film and, if the 1951 Scrooge starring Alastair Sim is the recognised highlight in traditional mould, off-beat versions include the unexpectedly wonderful 1992 adaptation The Muppet Christmas Carol. This new film is at least as off-beat as that one was and is as adventurous in its approach as anything by Powell and Pressburger (the designs by Darko Petrovic are splendidly imaginative and prompt thoughts of the work of Hein Heckroth). However, the team who gave us The Red Shoes (1948) also gave us the 1955 misfire Oh Rosalinda!! and, for all its ambition and daring, the Morris concept brought to A Christmas Carol - an attempt to tell the tale in dance combined with words taken direct from Dickens - struggles to win us over. In some respects, it does in time succeed, but as a whole this is an interesting curiosity rather than anything more.

 

A central problem lies in the fact that the story of the miserly, unfeeling Scrooge and his redemption through ghostly visitations one Christmas night does not readily lend itself to dance. Nor does it help that a great deal of the spoken dialogue is matched to images that often lack any specific focus on the character supposedly speaking. This produces a sense of detachment as we listen to speakers who feel separated from the faces on the screen: image and sound never cohere sufficiently to become one. Disruptive too is the occasional sight of footlights intended to imply that the dancers are on a stage when for the most part the camera follows these dancers in a manner which suggests that they are on a studio set.

 

It takes some time to adjust to this mishmash, but two things eventually help to make us accept it. One is the quality of the spoken performances from a highly distinguished cast (see the credits below): Simon Russell Beale voices Scrooge with his usual discernment and Siân Phillips as the narrator (briefly seen but mainly limited to voice over) is first-class. The film is also strong when bringing out the social and moral elements of the story and in keeping the potential sentimentality under control while achieving moments of genuine emotion. Dickens has provided us with a Christmas staple and this new film is true to the original storyline even as it seeks to express it in a fresh form. Much of the time it feels uneasy, but it is never insincere and the originality of the piece makes it a brave if sometimes foolhardy work.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Siân Phillips, Michael Nunn, Jakob Franasowicz, Thea Achillea. 

Voices of  Simon Russell Beale, Martin Freeman, Carey Mulligan, Daniel Kaluuya, Leslie Caron and Andy Serkis.

 

Dir Jacqui Morris, Pro David Morris and Jacqui Morris, Screenplay Charles Dickens, adapted by David Morris, Ph Michael Wood, Pro Des Darko Petrovic, Ed Gary Forrester, Music Alex Baranowski, Costumes Aneta Kharaishvili and Stevie Stewart, Choreography Russell Maliphant.

 

Frith Street Films-Munro Film Services.
96 mins. UK. 2020. Rel: 4 December 2020. Available in cinemas. Cert. PG.