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A Christmas Carol
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Jacqui Morris, David Morris
scr David Morris
prd Jacqui Morris
voices Simon Russell Beale, Martin Freeman, Leslie Caron, Daniel Kaluuya Andy Serkis, Carey Mulligan, Lorraine Ashbourne, Michelle McMahon
with Sian Phillips, Michael Nunn, Karl Fagerlund Brekke, Dana Maliphant, Mikey Boateng, Russell Maliphant, Grace Jabbari, Hannah Kidd, Steff D'Arcy
release UK/US 4.Dec.20
Is it streaming?
A fantastical combination of theatre, dance, animation and audio book, this ambitious movie adaptation sticks closely to Charles Dickens' text, resisting temptation to update or soften anything. This gives it an edgy dark intensity that might make it tricky for children to connect with. This is a fiercely original take on a novella that has been filmed too many times. And it has a haunting quality that holds the interest.
As a grandmother (Phillips) in Victorian England recites Dickens' newly published tale, a young child sees it come to life in her mind's eye. It's the grim Christmas Eve odyssey of stingy money-lender Scrooge (performed by Nunn/voiced by Beale), who revels in London's mercilessly unequal economy and rejects holiday cheer. That night, the ghost of his late partner (Russell Maliphant/Serkis) warns him that he will be visited by three more spirits. They represent Christmases past (Dana Maliphant/Caron), present (Boateng/Kaluuya) and yet to come (Brekke), and helo Scrooge see that life doesn't have to be so miserable.
The story plays out on a dollhouse-style stage with dancers performing the roles in elaborate movements choreographed by Russell Maliphant, while the dialog is provided in voiceover by the starry cast. The imagery is beautiful, cleverly designed to evoke a child's imagination. Clever effects work provides fantastical flourishes, merging eye-catching flights of fancy with period imagery that's both iconic and gritty. So even though we know this story inside out, filmmakers Jacqui and David Morris find new ways to express its power to move us deeply.
The main action is enacted with a mix of staged theatricality and modern dance on lovely stylised sets. The gifted dancers use their physicality beautifully, creating evocative moods through gliding movements that sometimes become exaggerated. Meanwhile, the talented voice cast injects attitude and energy into their performances, thankfully without trying to steal the scenes. Between the live-action scenes, artfully animated sequences feature paper-cutouts, etchings and photos that add some vivid period touches.
Using all these elements, the filmmakers find telling parallels. Dickens was writing in a profoundly unfair time when poor people were unable to make something of themselves, and the middle class lived under the threat of sudden poverty. Few could afford health care, while the wealthy partied on, profiting from the misery of others. In other words, things weren't hugely different in the 1840s than they are today. So the filmmakers never need to push any themes: the ideas resonate strongly in Dickens' time-honoured words.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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