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Scrooge U : Part XXX -- Patrick Stewart makes a stellar Ebenezer Scrooge

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Scrooge U : Part XXX -- Patrick Stewart makes a stellar Ebenezer Scrooge

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There seems to be a wide variety of opinion when it comes to the Patrick Stewart version of "A Christmas Carol." Some Dickens fans find this 1999 TV movie to be rather cold and joyless, while still others admire this adaptation for the extremely naturalistic approach that Stewart takes toward playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge.


Copyright 200o Turner Home Entertainment

I have to admit that I find myself in the latter category. I think that Patrick does a terrific job with this part. Just as George C. Scott did with his brilliant performance in the 1984 TV movie version of Dickens' classic tale, Stewart plays Scrooge as a real man. A cold & stern fellow, to be sure. But one who has a brain. As well as a heart that Ebenezer seems to have misplaced somewhere along the way.

That (to me, anyway) is one of the great joys of this particular version of "A Christmas Carol." You see, Stewart's version of Scrooge is clearly a thinking man. One who prides himself in always being rational, in always keeping his wits about him. So to take a fellow like that and then drop him in the middle of a ghost story, where Ebenezer suddenly finds himself being overwhelmed by all these regrets & feelings that he's kept locked up for years & years ... That's a really interesting way to go with this character.

Of course, Patrick has an advantage over many of the other actors who have played Ebenezer Scrooge over the years. Given that Stewart had appeared in his one man show version of "A Christmas Carol" in both New York & London before TNT & RHI Entertainment approached Patrick about possibly appearing in a new TV movie version of Dickens' timeless tale.


Photo courtesy of Google Images

Stewart agreed. But only if -- in addition to starring in this new television production of "A Christmas Carol" -- Patrick could also serve as one of the executive producers of the program. Stewart also insisted that he have approval over both the director (David Hughes Jones) & the writer (Peter Barnes) of this TV movie. So that everyone would then be on the same page when it came to how Ebenezer Scrooge should be portrayed in this program.

The end result ... Well, as I mentioned at the start of this article, tends to get a very diverse reaction from Dickens fans. There are those who just hate Stewart's cerebral approach to this role. Mind you, these are the folks who tend to want their Ebenezer Scrooge to be much more visceral. To bark at Bob Crachit. To quake in fear when the Ghost of Jacob Marley appears in Ebenezer's living quarters. To go all gooey at the sight of Tiny Tim and his diminutive crutch.

Well, this isn't really that sort of "Christmas Carol." Stewart and his hand-picked creative team have stripped Dickens' holiday tale of all of its cheap theatrics and caricature. So -- since Patrick plays Ebenezer Scrooge as if he were a real person -- so too does Richard E. Grant in his portrayal of Bob Crachit. Dominic West follows Stewart & Grant's lead, turning in a very restrained performance as Scrooge's nephew, Fred. Even the actors playing the two charitable gentlemen (Edward Petherbridge & Jeremy Swift) dial things 'way down, keeping their characters as naturalistic as possible.


Copyright 2000 Turner Home Entertainment

Of course, by opting to go this route, the first 15 minutes of this particular version of "A Christmas Carol" tends to be rather muted. Mind you, Peter Barnes did try to liven things up by inventing a whole new prologue for Dickens' story. Which follows Jacob Marley's lonely funeral procession (With Scrooge as his partner's only mourner) out to the graveyard on Christmas Day.

Speaking of Jacob Marley ... Given his familiarity with CG (From all those years playing Jean Luc Picard on the "Star Trek : The Next Generation" TV series), Stewart insisted that the producers use computer animation to make the ghosts in this holiday special seem that much more spectral & surreal. And -- when it came to Scrooge's old partner (played by Bernard Lloyd) -- this show's special effects team really delivered in spades.

From the way that Marley manifests himself in the doorknocker to that particularly ghoulish moment when Jacob's jaw becomes so unhinged that Scrooge literally has to help his old partner pull himself together ...


Copyright Turner Home Entertainment 

... The FX in this part of the program are outstanding. And -- in some cases (Like when Marley magically throws open the window and then shows Scrooge a night sky full of restless spirits) -- eeriely beautiful.


Copyright 1999 Turner Home Entertainment

Mind you, some of the very best moments in this new TV movie of "A Christmas Carol" have few if any special effects involved in them. Take -- for example -- Joel Grey's performance as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

While it's true that the special effects team did give this character an unearthly glow in post production, it's Joel's portrayal of this holiday spirit that makes him seem genuinely unearthly. The way Grey carries himself, the detached but bemused way that the Ghost of Christmas Past observes Scrooge as these two journey back to this miser's boyhood. Joel really keeps Patrick on his toes in this part of the program. For -- while Stewart may be the one in the spotlight in this holiday special -- your eye is always drawn to Grey in this section of the story. As you wonder what this character is thinking as he observes the shadows of Scrooge's past.


Copyright 2000 Turner Home Entertainment

Desmond Barrit does a similiarly fine job with the Ghost of Christmas Present. Again through the judicious use of special effects, this holiday spirit literally flies Scrooge around the world as he shows this miser how sailors far out at sea, lighthouse keepers high up in their lonely towers and even coal miners way deep down in the Earth still manage to find a way to celebrate the season.

Of course, what's nice about this particular portion of "A Christmas Carol" is that it actually makes use of a seldom-used portion of the original text of Dickens' holiday tale. The author really did have this holiday spirit fly Ebenezer around the globe so that he could see that even people who live under miserable conditions could still find time for Christmas.


Copyright 2000 Turner Home Entertainment

Speaking of miserable conditions, the Ghost of Christmas Present makes his usual stop at the Crachit house. Where Scrooge is finally introduced to Tiny Tim (Ben Tibber). And before this now-wane holiday spirit disappears right at the stroke of midnight, he also introduces Ebenezer to those two ghastly children, Ignorance & Want. (Which -- as I keep pointing out over the course of the "Scrooge U" series -- is usually a sign that you're watching one of the better adaptations of "A Christmas Carol".)


Copyright 2000 Turner Home Entertainment

From there, it's time for the Ghost of Christmas Past to appear. And -- after revealing how the Crachit family is truly devastated by Tiny Tim's passing -- this holiday spirit shows Scrooge that his funeral will be even more miserable than Marley's was. With absolutely no one mourning the passing of this miser.

We now cut to the next morning. Which -- following the lead of the first 15 minutes of this TV movie -- is rather muted. Sure, Scrooge is transformed. But he's not dancing in the street about it. That said, Patrick Stewart does have one wonderful moment in this portion of "A Christmas Carol." Where Scrooge -- after being away from church for decades -- finally attends a Christmas morning service. Just the expression of Patrick's face in this section of the story -- how unsure Ebenezer is about this new setting, yet how truly much he needs & wants to be there ... It's a sweet, sweet moment.

Again, I know, this is a somewhat cerebral take on "A Christmas Carol." But Patrick Stewart's intelligent & insightful performance as Ebenezer Scrooge is a real eye-opener. If you ever get the chance to check out this TV movie (FYI: TNT is actually planning on airing this version of Dickens' classic holiday tale on Christmas Eve), be sure and check it out.

And speaking of different takes on Ebenezer Scrooge ... Tomorrow, Vanessa Williams makes memorable music as Dickens' miserable miser in that TV movie from 2000, "A Diva's Christmas Carol."

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  • It was just on TNT the other day as well.  I'm rather fond of this particular version, particularily of Stewart's portrayal of Scrooge.  This was also the first non-animated version of a Christmas Carol my children had ever seen -- and it remains their favorite, TIVO'd every year now just like Rudolph and Frosty.  

    While I agree that the special effects for most of the production were quite well done, there is a glaring exception.  The Ghost of Christmas Future looked like a cross between a Jawa from Star Wars and Fezzick in the Holocost Cloak from The Princess Bride.  I distracts me from the power of the third encounter every time.  

  • I am so relieved to hear I wasn't the only one thinking "Jawa" when Christmas Future showed up. LOL

    I saw this version for the first time a couple weeks back, and it definitely had some great moments in it, like when Scrooge struggled to laugh for the first time in years.

  • Stewart's version is a near tie with the 1951 Alistair Sim version as my all time favorite.  

    There's only two weak points in this adaption:

    Couldn't they have done better with Christmas Future?  The other two spirits look great.   Christmas Future, well, not so great.  The aforementioned "Jawa" look inspires neather fear, nor dread.

    The other thing that's always bothered me is the part where Scrooge tries to laugh for the first time in years.  Great idea, mind you, but it just comes off really awkward and forced.  

    Jim, it's been great fun reading these articles and playing along at home by watching the different adaptions.  Thanks for this series.

    BTW, anybody else notice that this version seems to have been influenced by the Richard Williams animated version?  That "seldom-used portion of the original text of Dickens' holiday tale" that Jim's talking about.  Williams version used it too.  Not only is it in both adaptions, but the shots are extremely similar.  Also, I think those two versions are the only ones which have Marley remove his jaw wrap with disturbing results.

  • I think it's got more to do with the use of the source material and the increased ability to do things like Marley's jaw in animation and recent computer advances.

  • The advantage that you get with the modern versions is the ability to use special effects to much greater advantage but, I'm one of the folks you mentioned that don't like people recreating the character of Scrooge into something it was never meant to be.Of course actors will always interpret but in recreating you are drawing the central role the way it was never intended and so losing the subtlety and intricacies that Dickens understood so well but few seem to have grasped afterwards. What you end up with is some background that has been knitted together to account for a caricature personality made up by a writer.  If you don't trust Dickens to know who Scrooge was, who do you trust ? I was a bit disappointed that neither this version nor the recordings made by Patrick Stewart accurately reflected the achievement of his stage performance. Frankly, I'd love to have seen that filmed rather than yet another TV version which, yes, had some good and original ideas in it (not the wrapper though, that really is in countless others) but was nothing very special. If you think this bears some resemblance to the animated Williams one in some areas, I think it may be because a lot of American adaptations reflect the view that the Sim film is the true version rather than the book. This shows the tremendous impact it still has today - quite a tribute I reckon. Incidentally, if anyone can get BBC digital radio, Michael Gough stars in the most recent audio version made by the Beeb. Michael appears in the 1984 Scott film as one of the two old charity collectors. The version is produced by the late, great Glyn Dearman who is better known as the child actor who played Tiny Tim in the 1951 version.

  • As I've said multiple times during this series, this version is my absolute favorite. I love how faithful it is to the story and how for the most part (except the tornado), the special effects blends in with the movie instead of taking away from it. I think every one of the characters from Scrooge to Fezziwig were perfectly cast. My two favorite scenes of the movie are the break up between Scrooge and his girlfriend (which just makes you feel so much for old Scrooge) and Fezziwig party scene. And I too really like how Stewart took a real approach to Scrooge.

  • I appreciate the little details, like how not everyone has bright white perfectly straight teeth, which is what you usually see in any movie regardless of the setting or the character!

  • It's not perfect, but I like the small, nice touches in this...the fact that Scrooge had to be prompted to remove his hat in church, the way he still sounded a little uncertain when he promised the messenger boy "two shillings," the way he unconsciously tapped his foot to the music at Fezziwig's party and reached out for a cup of punch at Fred's (Dominic West's Fred, by the way, rivals Roger Rees as the best).

    There's also a poignant footnote to this. Richard E. Grant, who played Bob Cratchit, lost a baby girl that died only hours after her premature birth. I can't even imagine how hard the Christmas Future scenes were for him to do, or how bittersweet it was for him to hear the words "And Tiny Tim...who did NOT die..."

  • As i'm reaing over the installments of Scrooge U, the conclusion I'm coming to is that there needs to be a balance for actorrs portraying Scrooge.  If you go too over the top with the performance, Scrooge becomes a caricature and the story is more a moral lesson than a real person going through a turning point in his life.  But there's also danger in going too far in the other direction.  If Scrooge becomes too subtle, you risk losing who he is.  For the story to work, for the audience to really believe that the Spirits of Christmas would take an interest in saving the soul of this particular human, Scrooge has to be more than just a slightly cranky, miserly, curmudgeon.  Indeed, Scrooge's transformation falls flat if all that's happening is a grumpy old man feeling good about Christmas again.  Without crossing the line into near parody, Scrooge needs to be a guy who's really turned his back on humanity in pursuit of the allmighty dollar (or the allmighty pound, more appropriately).

    That said, I don't really mind the slight or drastic reimaginings of the tale we're getting to know through this series.  Though the subject is timeless, Dickens was a product of his time too and it's only natural that writers shoudl try to transpose the material ino new and different settings.  What I'd really like to see, though, is a modern take on "A Christmas Carol" that gives Scrooge a bit of the modern skepticism about the holiday season.  It may seem easy enough to the modern mind to get you holidays jollies back when you're in Dickensian London, with an example of Christmas cheer or noble suffering around every corner.  But what kind of comeback would Nephew Fred come up with if Scrooge were to point out how much lip service the public gives to peace on earth and good will to men right before setting off to maul their fellow shoppers over the last hot toy of the year?

  • I think the reason you don't see a modern Scrooge with modern skepticism about Christmas is that it doesn't mix well with his miserliness--or at least, it would be more challenging to make the two consistent.  Now, what would work well (and fit very neatly with Dickens' own social views) would be to give him modern attitudes toward the poor (that people are only poor because they're lazy).  Then, seeing Bob's living situation, he could realize that the Cratchits (who are middle-class but struggling) are in this position because Bob works a lot of unpaid overtime and hasn't ever had a raise that covered cost-of-living increases, and that Tiny Tim's health is poor because Scrooge doesn't offer decent health insurance.  

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