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A Christmas Carol [Import anglais]
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Scrooge is a miserly old businessman in 1840's London. One Christmas Eve he is visited by the ghost of Marley, his dead business partner. Marley foretells that Scrooge will be visited by three spirits, each of whom will attempt to show Scrooge the error of his ways. Will Scrooge reform his ways in time to celebrate Christmas?
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Such was the case in 1999 when director David Hugh Jones directed an updated version of the classic story for television, which stared the venerable Shakespearean-trained actor Patrick Stewart. (Patrick Stewart was also one of the film's executive producers.) Patrick Stewart, who is well known for his portrayal of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the 7-year TV-series "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and 4 "Star Trek" feature films (as well as many other roles), has always used his Shakespearean training to create a very realistic performance in most anything that he does, and his portrayal of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge was no different.
Though some viewers have commented that the 1999 version of "A Christmas Carol" is joyless and that they haven't enjoyed it, the reality is that that more closely resembles the environment of Charles Dickens' original story. Hence, Patrick Stewart created a very realistic embodiment of what Charles Dickens envisioned for Ebenezer Scrooge: a joyless miser who has completely forgotten what it means to live and to love. Also, these same viewers neglect the amount of detail present in this rendition of the film that has often been absent in previous big-screen film versions, such as young Ebenezer's (Kenny Doughty) work for his first employer Mr. Albert Fezziwig (Ian McNeice) and the old women (played by Liz Smith and Elizabeth Spriggs) fighting over a deceased man's belongings.
Other memorable performances in the film include Jacob Marley (Bernard Lloyd), Bob Cratchit (Richard E. Grant), Mrs. Cratchit (Saskia Reeves), Tiny Tim Cratchit (Ben Tibber), Ebenezer's nephew Fred (Dominic West), Ebenezer's sister Fran (Rosie Wiggins), Mrs. Fezziwig (Annette Badland), the Ghost of Christmas Past (Joel Grey), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Desmond Barrit), The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Tim Potter) and Belle (Laura Fraser). Of the many actors who have portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge over the past century (George C. Scott in 1984, Albert Finney in 1970, Alastair Sim in 1951, and Reginald Owen in 1938 to name a few), I am glad to see Patrick Stewart numbered among them.
Overall, I rate the 1999 version of "A Christmas Carol" with 5 out of 5 stars and highly recommend it. Sadly, since the film was produced for television, it was not filmed in widescreen format (which is my only complaint about the film), but that does not take away from this film's splendid portrayal of Charles Dickens' classic short story.
This made-for-TV production is sometimes criticized for its use of special effects; I don't find those overly disturbing, though - in fact, they're rather low-key and for the most part used to show nothing more than what Dickens actually described. (This *is* a ghost story, remember?) Scrooge really does see Marley's face in his door knocker; we all know that Marley's ghost does indeed walk through Scrooge's doubly locked door ... and last but not least Dickens himself describes the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come as "shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand." (Granted, no gleaming lights for eyes, though.) The script could have spared a modernism here and there, but again, mostly the lines are exactly those that Dickens himself wrote. Even where the characters don't actually speak them, they are part of their reflections - such as Marley being buried and "dead as a door-nail" (which, after all, is the tale's all-important premise) and Scrooge's rather funny musings how the Ghost of Christmas Past might be deterred from taking him for a flight (where citing neither the weather nor the hour nor a head cold nor his inadequate dress would do). Richard E. Grant, known to TV audiences as Sir Percy Blakeney in the recent adaptations of "The Scarlet Pimpernel," moves to the opposite end of the social spectrum in his portrayal of gaunt, downtrodden Bob Cratchit; and he is a very credible caring father and husband, albeit a bit too well-educated - unlike the rest of his family, who speak and come across as decidedly more cockney. Joel Grey, whose Master of Ceremonies in "Cabaret" stands out as one of those "one of a kind" performances that are few and far between in film history, is almost perfectly cast as the Ghost of Christmas Past, combining the spirit's wisdom of an old man with his child-like innocence, frail stature and luminous appearance. A great supporting cast and solid cinematographic and directorial work round out an overall very well done production.
Many actors are remembered either for one career-making role or for a certain type they have cast. No doubt Patrick Stewart, who as a teenager had to face an ultimatum between a steady job and the theater and chose the latter, will go into film history as Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Treck's "Next Generation." But I would not be surprised if the other major role he will always be remembered for will be that of Ebenezer Scrooge - on stage, in audio recordings *and* in this movie adaptation, which successfully brings Dickens's timeless tale of bitterness, sorrow, redemption and the true meaning of Christmas to the 21st century, and which before long, I think, will attain the status of a classic in its own right. I know that I, for one, will be watching it again with renewed pleasure next Christmas.
A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings (Penguin Classics)
A Christmas Carol (Reissue)
A Christmas Carol (Ultimate Collector's Edition)(B/W & Color)
Classic Ghost Stories
The Charles Dickens Collection (Oliver Twist / Martin Chuzzlewit / Bleak House / Hard Times / Great Expectations / Our Mutual Friend)
The Charles Dickens Collection, Vol. 2 (David Copperfield / The Pickwick Papers / The Old Curiosity Shop / Dombey and Son)
Stewart is the star here. His scrooge is a far cry from the usual curmudgeon we've been given by the likes of George C. Scott, Lionel Berrymore, and Albert Finney. Stewart's Scrooge is much more human--and as a result much less wooden.
The four ghosts are excellent as well. Part of this may well be advances in special effects. Yet bearing even that in mind, the first three ghosts (especially Joel Grey as the ghost of Christmas Past) turn in spectacular performances; while not saying much (as usual) the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come broods nicely.
Interwoven throughout the movie is the outstanding job done by the various actors who play the Cratchit family. Richard Grant is the best Bob Cratchit I have ever seen. The rest of the family is just as remarkable.
More than anything else however, this TNT version gets more to the meaning of Christmas than most earlier versions. We have so much more here than empty, fuzzy-warm sentiment. When the redeemed Scrooge takes action, he also runs to sing songs of joy and worship to the God that has made it all possible.
Everything about this movie version is spot-on. The pacing is superb, each phase of Scrooge's journey is given enough time to truly blossom--nothing gets shortchanged. This makes for the best ending sequence to the piece ever filmed.
I cannot express my enthusiasm for this film enough. This is the best movie of A Christmas Carol yet made (my previous Scrooge of choice was Bill Murray's Scrooged, which I still greatly appreciate). I give this movie my highest recommendation.