A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A New and Visually Striking Adaptation

Although the Virgin birth may be the founding narrative of the Christmas holiday, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the urtext for how we tell Christmas stories. Ebenezer Scrooge has reached archetypal status as the misanthrope who, through various difficulties in life, becomes tight-fisted, forgets the virtues of caring for others, the pleasure of communing with others, and must be reminded of the Christmas spirit and what truly composes a good life.

Since the story has become so central to our culture and the narrative is so often adapted and revamped and retold, A Christmas Carol and its plethora of adaptions risk becoming tiresome and stale. Director Jacqui Morris, in his new adaption of A Christmas Carol, attempts to escape this staleness by presenting the story as a modern dance dreamscape with the original text interlaced into the narrative through a narrator and various voice actors. 

A New Vision for an Old Classic

Morris’ adaption of A Christmas Carol remains true to the text of the story. The screenplay is credited as an adaption by David Morris, but the language, as in most adaptions of the novella, is taken straight from the text. The film frames the narrative as a paper theater performance that is put on by Victorian children as their grandmother (Sian Phillips) reads A Christmas Carol and serves as the story’s narrator. As she begins to read, the camera zooms into the eyes of the youngest granddaughter, and the audience is transported into the paper theater performance as she imagines it. 

A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A New and Visually Striking Adaptation
source: Munro Films

In her vision, the stunning paper backgrounds come to life along with the actors who rise from the ground and begin the movement of the play. The interesting choice that Morris makes in this production that gives it that avant-garde feel is that all of the characters are portrayed by professional modern dancers, all who gracefully move around the stage and enact the emotions and actions of the characters with beauty and elegance. Between the movement of the actors and the gorgeous set and costume designs, the film is a feast for the eyes. The motion of the dancers, mixed with the design of the settings, and the right music could carry the film without the intrusion of the narrator and dialogue. 

Hamartia, or, Missing the Mark

Unfortunately, the music in the film is subtle and repetitive while the dialogue becomes off-putting in the way that it is presented. The actors dance on stage while other off-screen actors speak the dialogue of the story for them. It is as if the film were animated, except that the characters are not drawn; instead, the dancers lend their bodies to the actors’ voices. The dancers do not move their mouths as the actors speak and the disconnect between the voice and the body is distracting and incongruous. 

A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A New and Visually Striking Adaptation
source: Munro Films

The film attempts to keep the language of the novella while introducing a riveting visual method of telling the story, but the mixture of the spoken word and the movement of the dancers misses the mark and becomes distracting — even irritating — in moments. The voice performances (which include the talents of Carey Mulligan, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, and Daniel Kaluuya) are spectacular, and so are the dancers, but the editing of the two pieces of art together ultimately fails to work. 

Conclusion

The mixture of dance and dialogue feels like an attempt to be avant-garde while also appealing to the masses with a story that they know. A Christmas Carol leaves one wishing that the director would have treated the material like a ballet. The story is so well known that one wishes that the director and producers would have trusted the power of the dancers to convey the narrative through movement and music rather than overwhelming the story with dialogue that feels out of place with the performances. The beauty of Dickens’ language will always grip us, but this film didn’t need it.

What are your thoughts on this latest adaptation of A Christmas Carol? Let us know in the comments below.

A Christmas Carol will be released in theaters in the US and UK on November 27, 2020.


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