Reading lists

The 5 greatest film adaptations of ‘A Christmas Carol’

No arguments, now.

Amelia Tait

Just over three minutes into 2006’s computer-animated holiday special A Christmas Carol: Scrooge’s Ghostly Tale, Ebenezer Scrooge (an anthropomorphic skunk) asks Bob Cratchit (a balding rabbit with a thick, luxurious moustache) to locate his missing coin. The coin – it is revealed with a dramatic flourish moments later – is actually sat atop skunk Scrooge’s head. There have been hundreds of radio, theatre, TV, and film adaptations of Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic, and each offers something different. Barbie has been Scrooge. Diesel from Thomas the Tank Engine has been Scrooge. Frasier has been Scrooge. Marley may have been dead to begin with, but scarcely a year passes when he isn’t resurrected in front of studio lights.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the BBC will shortly be airing a new three-part A Christmas Carol drama written by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight. “Do we really need another one?” Andy Serkis, who plays the Ghost of Christmas Past, is purported to have asked upon being offered the role. Technically, the answer is no. The five best possible adaptations of the classic story have already been made, and they’re ready for a re-watch. God bless them, bar one (skunk Scrooge can go to hell). 

5. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

Provided you’re not a fan of Googling “how historically accurate is…”, you’re sure to be delighted by the greatest of the latest A Christmas Carol adaptations. Directed by Spooks and Hustle’s Bharat Nalluri, the story follows Charles Dickens as he attempts to write his holiday bestseller and is visited by apparitions of his characters. In essence, you get two movies for the price of one, as a destitute Dickens struggles to come up with the plot we now know and love and Ebenezer Scrooge sneers from the side-lines. There’s a whiff of cheese about the whole thing (“I thought this was a ghost story, not a fairy tale” remarks Scrooge himself), but it’s undeniably well-acted and produced, and offers a much (much) needed twist on the many (many) remakes. 

4. A Flintstones Christmas Carol (1994)

There’s no point pretending that some things aren’t better with dinosaurs (sorry Charles). A Flintstones Christmas Carol is not the most heart-wrenching adaptation, nor is it the most anything-in-particular. Yet the made-for-TV movie is nostalgic good fun and surprisingly faithful to the original source material. Another story-within-a-story, the short film follows Fred as he plays Scrooge in a local play, and once the production kicks off, there are plenty of real, genuine Dickens quotes to yabba dabba do! at. “How can these prehistoric folk be celebrating the birth of a messiah not due for several millenia?” questioned a scathing TV Guide review written at the time. Like boiled sprouts in the middle of the Christmas dinner table, some questions are best left untouched.  

3. Scrooged (1988)

Too many Christmas Carol adaptations gloss over the fact that Ebenezer Scrooge is an absolute Dickens-head, throwing in a few half-hearted humbugs and a couple of mean stares before calling the job done. Not so in eighties classic Scrooged, where Bill Murray goes full bastard with his character Frank Cross (subtle), an angry TV network president and modern-day Ebenezer who is broadcasting a live production of the classic tale. Murray’s Cross overworks his assistant, fires people on Christmas Eve, steals taxis from old women, and screams – a lot. After its release, Roger Egbert called the whole thing “one of the most disquieting, unsettling films to come along in quite some time”, which surely proves the movie did a great job at relaying the original message in a modern (or at least, once modern) era. 

2. Scrooge (1951)

From the haunting chill of the windy sound effects to the unparalleled acting of Alastair Sim, watching this black-and-white classic should be firmly entrenched as one of your holiday traditions. This is your one-stop-shop for drama, darkness, and distinctly-not-for-kids sequences – the character acting and moody soundtrack bring the real horror of the story alive like no other adaptation. When Scrooge quakes in the snow in the presence of the cloaked Ghost of Christmas Future, you’re there. The mere memory of Tiny Tim gazing up at toys in a shop window is enough to make you cry. And can any adaptation really rival the remarkably powerful redemption scene, which cuts to the heart of Dickens’ original story? “Can you forgive a pig-headed old fool with no eyes to see with, no ears to hear with, all these years?” Yes mate, I can! The whole thing is captivating from start to finish. 

1. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Scrap everything you just read. Set fire to it, throw it in the bin, and set fire to it again. The best-acted, most powerfully portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge is Michael Caine’s, and the most-faithful, most heart-wrenching Christmas Carol adaptation belongs to the muppets. Thanks to Gonzo’s steadfast narration, the film features a whole host of the original’s lines, and when the movie does veer from the source material, it is undeniably superior. Dickens himself would have to concede that Tiny Tim is far better as a felt frog, and the omission of a penguin Christmas skating party is a black mark on his original work. There is not a single flaw in The Muppet Christmas Carol, from tiny, joy-filled moments like Rizzo kissing Gonzo on the nose to the big blockbuster songs. The film is so powerful that one tear-jerking song, When Love Is Gone, was actually cut from theatrical releases because it was feared the sequence made children too sad. I defy you to watch Michael Caine choking up (while singing!) and not conclude that the Oscars are a farce.

A Christmas Carol starring Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce starts on BBC One on December 19th 2019. Watch the trailer.

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