In Review: A Christmas Carol – Episode One

The new BBC and Fox joint production of a Dickens classic updates the story for the present day....

Synopsis: Misanthropic businessman Ebenezer Scrooge refuses to let his workers celebrate Christmas.

Review: Airing over three nights here in the UK. This latest interpretation of Charles Dickens’s classic story takes on a darker twist as it is updated for today’s audience.

Initially when I heard that they were doing a three-hour version of the story for television. I had my doubts because the book on which the story is based on is one that can be read in a single sitting. But my doubts were soon dispelled when I saw the opening couple of scenes of this new take.

The Story

The start of the story breaks with the tradition of showing us Marley’s funeral. Instead, it begins a matter of days after the event where we see a young lad take a piss on the tombstone of Jacob Marley and calling the dead man a miser and skinflint in so many words. The scene then changes to a close up of Marley’s face as the fluid trickles down through the soil and hits him in the face disturbing his slumber. An event, which slowly leads to the dead man asking for a chance at redemption.

The scene then shifts to a church service with Bob Cratchet and his family in attendance. When Bob is asked to join a party on the 24th of December he has to decline because of his work. The people inviting him, tease him about his situation and move on with their carefree lives. While Bob heads to his workplace, which is the office of Scrooge and Marley.

While at work. We get our first look at Scrooge and get an interesting philosophical conversation between Scrooge and Cratchet about Christmas and some of the absurdity of it. Such as the three wise men walking camels through the snow when there is no record of snow in Palestine during that time period. In fact, Scrooge comes up with many logical reasons for why Christmas should be just considered another day. Which does little to assuage Cratchett of his belief or faith in the holiday.

Squeeze in between the Cratchet and Scrooge scenes are some interesting scenes telling us of Marley’s journey, which leads to his initial haunting of Scrooge. We see him ring the bell for redemption and lowered down into a foundry where a blacksmith is making his chains. From that point we see him dragged behind a coach for some distance before it drops him off near a bunch of pine trees. This eventually leads to a ghost who tells him that his redemption is linked to that of Scrooge. Meaning that he needs to redeem Scrooge before he can be redeemed himself.

The opening episode closes out with Marley telling Scrooge about his situation and showing his former business partner the consequences of their actions in regard to the cuts that they made to the businesses that they took over. Cuts, which ultimately killed people.

The Acting

Guy Pearce puts in a solid performance as this somewhat younger version of Scrooge who has a gift for sarcasm. I particularly enjoyed the scenes he got to play with Joe Alwyn’s Bob Cratchett. Particularly when he said that there should be a day where everyone just said what they really thought of each other instead of making nice and covering up with pretense.

I was also fairly impressed with Stephen Graham’s Jacob Marley and the way in which he played the whole backstory, which leads him to having to haunt Scrooge in order to get redemption. At first, you get the impression that his Marley is just saying what he thinks needs to be said until it dawns on him that the ghost he is talking to is deadly serious.

Overall

This is a promising start, which pretty much offers a new take on things with a little bit of a modern twist thrown in. The part where Marley shows Scrooge the consequences of their actions when they were in business together draws parallels to recent events such as Grenfell and the like, which I have no doubt the right-wing press will be whinging about in their reviews of this.

I heard from Raissa who does many of the Big Finish reviews that Fox in the USA has shown all three hours of this in the one evening. I think that is a bit of a mistake because as a viewer I think I’d struggle to watch for three hours given how harsh and dark some of the story elements are. So the BBC has made the right call to split this over 3 nights.

Insofar as what I wasn’t too keen on. I didn’t particularly feel drawn into the backstory with regard to the Cratchets, which shows us a slice of their lives that we do not see in prior adaptations of the books. This story element felt a bit crammed in. Maybe that will change a little in tomorrow’s episode.

Overall. This is a pretty good start with some interesting ideas and themes going on.

9.2
A Christmas Carol - Episode One
  • Story
    8.6
  • Acting
    9.5
  • CGI & Stunts
    9.3
  • Incidental Music
    9.2

Ian Cullen is the founder of scifipulse.net and has been a fan of science fiction and fantasy from birth. In the past few years he has written for 'Star Trek' Magazine as well as interviewed numerous comics writers, television producers and actors for the SFP-NOW podcast at: www.scifipulseradio.com When he is not writing for scifipulse.net Ian enjoys playing his guitar, studying music, watching movies and reading his comics. Ian is both the founder and owner of scifipulse.net You can contact ian at: ian@scifipulse.net
2 Comments on this post.
  • raissadevereux
    23 December 2019 at 3:24 pm -

    It was 3 1/2 hours with commercials in the US.

    • Ian Cullen
      23 December 2019 at 4:06 pm -

      Yup. We don’t commercials in regards to the timeing. But bet it would have still been pretty heavy going for whole three and likely would have worked better watching over three nights like it is here. Last episode airing on Christmas Eve.

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