There are several factors that go into adapting Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that help elevate it cinematically. First is the proper casting of key roles such as Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit. Another would be location shooting in London or having sets that bring you into the moment and surroundings. For me, having a weak lead role or a sound stage that is too brightly lit can pull me out of the moment. That’s why MGMs 1938 version has always been one of my least favorite adaptations. So when I heard that General Patton was playing the role back in 1984, even then at a young age, I was skeptical whether or not he could pull it off.
Admittedly, the key reason at the time that I was interested in watching it had to do with my growing love for all things Doctor Who. When I heard that Mark Strickson, who played the Doctor’s companion Turlough, was playing a young Scrooge, I was intrigued. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed that his role was so small. My attention was drawn instead to George C. Scott’s portrayal of Scrooge himself. It is that performance that makes A Christmas Carol (1984) one of the best adaptations.
Scott brings a gruffness to any role he plays, so he seems perfect to play Scrooge and he does so rather well. He lacks the appropriate amount of love and passion prior to his conversion and redemption. While he still seems rough around the edges, I found the moment where Scrooge visits his nephew Fred and his wife at the end especially heartwarming. Scott wasn’t the easiest actor to work with and he had a certain measure of decorum to any role he played, so you won’t find him running about in his pajamas here but it does not detract from a wonderful performance. Scott displays a certain measure of sadness in eyes as Scrooge begins to see the folly of his ways that he seldom brought to any role. While Scott is not my favorite Scrooge, he far surpasses many others in my opinion, including Reginald Owen and Seymour Hicks.
Being filmed on location in London adds some authenticity that elevates the film above many other versions. There is a dirt and grittiness to the city without making it too dark and gloomy. While the sets seem a little more limited than other versions, they work quite well. I found the representations of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future quite fitting, especially the use of lightning and screeching sounds for the Future segment, something unique to this version. It was also interesting to see the character of Silas Scrooge, Ebenezer’s father, the first time we would see him on screen. The ghostly carriage was also a chilling addition. However, I did miss the reduced role of Mrs. Dilber and I didn’t particularly feel that Marley’s ghost was very outstanding, at least when compared to other versions.
The biggest drawback for me was the horrible miscasting of Bob Cratchit. David Warner (Time After Time) is a wonderful actor but his performance seemed too upper society for me. I wasn’t convinced of Cratchit’s lowly status or his meek persona around Scrooge. Nor did I get a very good feeling of his love for his family. Again, nothing against Warner as an actor, I just feel he was entirely wrong for the role. I was also bothered by Tiny Tim as Anthony Walters almost looked too sickly in appearance. It was perhaps authentic on one hand but a little too much for me.
Despite, these few flaws, this 1984 film version is well worth enjoying during the Christmas season. Made-for-television for the United States, it was screened theatrically in the UK, indicative of its superior quality. After years of limited availability, it is now easily found on Blu-ray. While it is not my favorite version, it ranks towards the top and is something I go back to every few years. If you haven’t given it a chance, take the time to do so this Christmas.