In the Dickens canon, by far the most popular work for cinematic and television adaptation, according to Philip Bolton in Dickens Dramatized (1988), is A Christmas Carol. The best-known film adaptation even fifty years after its initial screening is the 1951 British production in black-and-white starring Alastair Sim (Renown Pictures; produced and directed by Desmond Hurst). As Paul Davis points out:

There are no scenes of him dunning his creditors or counting his money. Noel Langley's script also removes many of Scrooge's witticisms . . . . . Scrooge is fearful rather than witty. He is vulnerable, troubled, and insecure.[The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge [1990] 189]

One good introduction to cinematic adapations of this work — and to cinematic adapations of novels in general — is the following: (1) Show video clip from 1951 film from Scrooge's leaving the office until the departure of Marley's ghost. (2) Read pp. 54-55 of the Penguin edition A Christmas Carol.

Questions for Discussion

1. The essence of film-adaptation is economy and condensation of a text. In this sequence of scenes, what has been lost in the process of adaptation?

2. Davis calls this film "the best example of the psychological Carol" (189). What aspects of the sequence viewed confirm his analysis?

3. The New York Times described this version as "heavy on the Freudian sauce," and Regina Barreca links the three spirits to the Freudian dimensions of personality, "the Spirit of Christmas Past . . . with Scrooge's id impulses (the emotional, irrational child), the Spirit of Christmas Present with his ego . . . and the Spirit of Christmas Yet-to-Come with his super-ego (to imagine the effects of his actions on himself and others . . .)" ("The Ghost of an Idea . . ." [1985] unpublished lecture). What does the ghost of Jacob Marley (played by the venerable Sir Michael Hordern) contribute to a Freudian interpretation?

4. "Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern; and having read all the newspapers, and beguiled the rest of the evening with his banker's book, went home to bed" (Penguin 54-55). To what purposes does screenwriter Langley put this little scene in the film? How has he integrated his expanded scene at the eatery into the fabric of Dickens's text? Examine Scrooge here against the text's Scrooge's for consistency of characterization.

5. Examine the humour in the sequence of scenes viewed and that in the equivalent portion of the text: which is more amusing and why, the film or the novella?

6. Dickens's novella takes its origin from the German "gheist" or "ghost" story. What new uses does Dickens make of his Gothic material?


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Last modified 12 June 2001