In the previous blog, I talked about the story itself. Today, which is December 21, Bah Humbug Day, I’d like to talk about some of the adaptations of A Christmas Carol. It has obviously spoken to people deeply ever since it was written, and there have been dozens of adaptations for the big screen, for television, for radio, and for audiobooks, as well as other shows doing their own takes on the story, updating it, or adapting it to their own characters. Scrooged with Bill Murray springs immediately to mind and shows as diverse as Quantum Leap, Doctor Who, and even The Real Ghostbusters have used the story in their own ways.
Obviously, I can’t do a definitive list of all the movies, shows and adaptations, but I do want to feature a few of those I return to year after year. And please remember that these are my opinions only – I speak for myself.
I’m going to take these mostly in date order, but I want to start with my favorite, which is the 1951 version with Alastair Sim. There are a couple reasons why for me this is the best version. First of all, Sim is one of a very few actors who is believable both as the grouchy unredeemed Scrooge of the beginning and the changed better man at the end. Also, the music in this, though sometimes a little intrusive, reflects the mood of the scenes so very well. I love how in the beginning, the credits start with cheerful music which is overwhelmed by Scrooge’s darker theme as he appears, but then at the end, Scrooge adopts his nephew Fred’s theme – the lively polka music. I also like the way they fill in Scrooge’s back story in this version. It is interesting in having Michael Horden as Marley. He is probably best known over here as Gandalf in the BBC’s radio version of Lord of the Rings. It also features a young Patrick Macnee who became John Steed in The Avengers as the younger Marley.
Going back: there are older versions, but the first one I want to feature is the 1935 Seymour Hicks adaptation. Every time I watch this I think a group of actors were bored over a weekend and decided it might be fun to do A Christmas Carol. It was obviously done on a shoestring budget. I find Hicks quite believable as the unredeemed Scrooge, but not really as the changed man. His portrayal makes me cringe. What I like about this version is that it so clearly shows the difference between rich and poor at that time in London, with the luxury of a few, and the real deprivation of the many. Probably the most affecting scene is where both rich and poor sing “God Save the Queen,” and seem to mean it.
Then there is the 1938 version with Reginald Owen. Americans might remember him from Mary Poppins as the old man who set off a cannon each day. With apologies to my friend Shari for whom this is the best version, I find Owen convincing enough as the redeemed Scrooge, but not really as the grouchy miser. It does, however, contain one of my very favorite scenes of all versions when Scrooge calls in the watch (we would say police) to remove Marley’s ghost from his premises. Makes me laugh every time. This version also stars Gene Lockhart as Bob Cratchit. He was the judge in the original version of Miracle on 34th Street. And Marley is played by Leo G. Carroll, best known to American audiences as Mr. Waverly in the U.N.C.L.E. franchises in the 60s.
And last for today, I want to mention the 1970 musical with Albert Finney. This is a lavish version, full of energy and enthusiasm. Besides Finney, this stars Alec Guinness as Marley, who is playing the part for all it’s worth, Edith Evans as a feisty Ghost of Christmas Past, and David Collings as Cratchit. He was in many British shows of the time, including Doctor Who, and anglophiles will remember him as Silver in Sapphire and Steel. This version is probably most memorable for the song “Thank You Very Much,” which will play in your head for days and days afterwards.
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