s seasonal as Christmas pudding and a holly wreath, A Christmas Carol has appeared on stage and screen more than any other Dickens novel: Philip Bolton in Dickens Dramatized lists 357 adaptations between 1844 and 1987, including seventeen versions for small and big screens. It has been transformed into countless radio plays, four operas, and at least five graphic novels. It has even been brilliantly parodied as Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988), in which a jovial and benign Ebenezer Blackadder (the sarcastic Rowan Atkinson), after being visited by the Spirit of Christmas (Robbie Coltrane), becomes greedy, insulting, and mean, even to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who, thinly disguised, visit his office. More to the taste of millenials as a colloquial and markedly unVictorian parody is the Beavis and Butt-head Huh-Huh-Humbug, with Beavis as Scrooge. Some of the freer adaptations merely utilise A Christmas Carol as a starting point; for example, in the Kindle short story collection A Christmas Carol: The Death of Tiny Tim and Other Dark Stories (2014), Joseph L. Calvarese provides s a murder mystery in which Scrooge sends the prize turkey to the Cratchit family with malevolent intentions.
1951 Poster for A Christmas Carol (detail). Reproduced courtesy of the Calinescu Collection. Toronto Click on image to enlarge it.
In the late 1830s and early 1840s, the number of adaptations of Dickens's novels on the early Victorian stage prompted critic F. Dubrez Fawcett in Dickens the Dramatist (1952) to term these early stage-versions "The Boz Cascade" and "The Dickens Deluge." The tidal wave of Carol adaptations dwindled to a steadily-flowing stream on the twentieth century screen, the first such cinematic adaptation being a 1908 silent film, and the first "talkie" being the 1935 Paramount production featuring Sir Seymour Hicks as the inveterate miser whom metaphysical experiences transform into a humanitarian. Even on film, the Carol continues to assimilate the Victorian fairy pantomime, effect-laden extravaganza, tuneful burletta, and lurid melodrama, all of which offered Victorians "thrilling action, stirring emotion, spectacle, jolly farce, and an ideal image of themselves and their own lives" (Booth I: 25). But, whereas theatre-going until late in the nineteenth century was hardly a middle-class affair in Great Britain and theatrical adaptations at such venues as The Surrey and The Britannia catered to working-class tastes and biases, adaptations for the big and small screens have been aimed largely at middle-class movie-goers and television audiences.
Our middle-class sensibilities are shocked by Old Joe's capitalistic treatment of Scrooge's effects and the veneer of respectability assumed by the undertaker's man as he presents for evaluation Scrooge's fob and personal items such as a penknife in the 1951 Carol. We cannot help but smile, however, when Old Joe, the rag-and-bone dealer, drops the laundry woman's sheets in alarm as he momentarily realizes that her employer might have died of something "catching" such as cholera or typhoid, very real public health concerns in 19th c. London, but fortunately an anachronism today. More real, perhaps, to theatre-goers of 1951 than to modern consumers of media are the starving and grimy waifs Ignorance and Want, grim byproducts of the factory system with whom survivors of the Second World War could feel some kinship after years of rationing and deprivation. Formerly members of the middle classes, those sleeping under a bridge in the 1984 film elicit as much sympathy from modern viewers who with credit cards and mortgages are not so many paycheques away from these bourgeois indigents who stubbornly refuse to succumb to the welfare system of the parochial workhouse (about which only readers of Oliver Twist are likely to know anything at all today).
Scrooge's emotional poverty and social isolation are evident in the very first adaptations, Edward Stirling's "authorised" A Christmas Carol; or, Past, Present, and Future (1844) and C. Z. Barnett's A Christmas Carol; or, The Miser's Warning (1844). The closest thing that present-day viewers have to a classic adaptation — and one that certainly emphasizes the emotional wasteland which Scrooge initially inhabits — is the one that has most frequently been screened since its debut: the Christmas 1951 Renown-Rank black-and-white production, written by the admirably named Noel Langley and starring that veteran of the "Carry On" series, Alastair Sim — properly, Alastair George Bell Sim, CBE (9 October 1900 – 19 August 1976), a Scottish actor who remained active on the West End stage until his death. Despite his many leading roles in British films of the 1940s and 50s, he is still chiefly remembered as a dour a schoolmaster in The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954) and the misanthropic miser of A Christmas Carol. So effective is his performance, swinging from the menacing capitalist to the joyous philanthropist with dynamic aplomb, that his classic characterisation has eclipsed veteran character actor Reginald Owen's in the Christmas 1938 Joseph L. Manciewicz Hollywood production, and continues to be the people's choice even in competition with brilliant performances by the intense George C. Scott (made-for-tv, Christmas 1984; directed by Clive Donner) and the rollicking Jim Carrey in animated form (2009, directed by Roger Zemekis). Although the technical effects in the 1951 Carol are hardly up to the standard of the of 1984 and 2009 colour films, fifty-one-year-old Sim humanizes the miser so effectively that even modern viewers are warmed by the miser's redemption as he embraces Victorian family values and becomes "Uncle" Scrooge to a physically rehabilitated Tiny Tim in the closing credits. No one remembers with any degree of vividness the tv musical The Stingiest Man in Town (1957) or an artificially aged Henry Winkler in the 1979 made-for-tv An American Christmas Carol, popular though these were in their day, but everyone who has ever seen the Sim performance remembers that golden moment on the stairs in Scrooge's mansion when a spiritually redeemed, born-again Ebenezer terrifies his charwoman, Mrs. Dilber (the comic genius of Lancashire born Kathleen Harrison), who threatens her apparently insane employer with the beadle. Nothing is equal in any subordinate role of a Carol film to Harrison's pronunciation of "Christ-mas" and "Mister Scrooge," and her throwing her apron over her head as a balding Scrooge, now giddy as a schoolboy and doing a juvenile jig, prepares to stand upon his head. Sim's curt, dead-pan response of "Why?" when hit up for a contribution to the poor fund in a single syllable cements his image as a callous captain of industry in the viewer's minds, so that his generosity with Christmas money for the charlady is all the more remarkable: "That's for the Beadle!" What a marvelously expressive face Sim has throughout that production, supported by droll wit, verbal irony, and physical bravura.
Hermione Baddeley as her husband's employer's harshest critic on the one hand and a thoroughly dedicated and tender wife and mother on the other in the 1951 is but one of dozens of fine screen actors who have supported the leads since Reginald Owen's 1935 impersonation, and space does not permit a full evaluation of their sterling performances. Memorable, however, is David Warner's earnest, intelligent, and highly sympathetic Bob Cratchit, father of a boy with a life-threatening illness in the 1984 film. All too often seen as a depraved villain in films, Gary Oldman gives a highly moving vocal rendition of Bob Cratchit's dialogue in the 2009 animated film, conveying something of the vulnerability although little of the humour of the 1951 film's Mervyn Johns in the role as a bustling, kindly, and mourning father. London-born Jack Warner, then fifty-six years old, is highly effective as the rakish, sociopathic capitalist who bilks his own firm, opening the door for an aggressive takeover by the canny book-keepers, Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley, their knowing smiles mirroring Warner's as Mr. Jorkins, a non-Dickensian interpolation who gives the 1843 Christian parable a highly modern "business ethics" relevance. The polished cameo of the self-centred embezzler remains a convincing harbinger of Leonardo di Caprio's "Wolfish" share-trader in the age of Occupy Wall Street. Non-British adaptations have not generally been wholly satisfying, and having a Scrooge with an American accent is as unsuitable as Walt Disney's American-voiced Winnie the Pooh (1996-1991). However, of equal relevance as Warner's Jorkins in the media age is Bill Murray's cold-hearted, alienated television executive Martin Cross in Scrooged (1988), a video-farce and parody in which the media misanthrope "has to learn to take his lumps, notably from the Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane)" (Baumgarten 62). As the tinsel-and-cellophane pink angel with a decidedly mean streak and cleavage, Kane's performance is straight out of The Theatre of Pain. Not so over-the-top but also tinged with cynical irony is bare-chested "Equalizer" Edward Woodward's Spirit of Christmas Present in the 1984, in which he is both physically and morally head-and-shoulders above George C. Scott's night-shirted Scrooge thanks to a pair of stilts. The great shift in film adaptations of the Carol, from Christmas fantasy and Freudian study of a social isolate to Socialistic tract for the times, actually begins with the momentous scene in the 1951 screenplay by Noel Langley when the young accountants, Scrooge and Marley, recently hired by Jorkins, meet in the counting house:
Marley: The world is on the verge of new and great changes, Mr. Scrooge. Some of them, of necessity, will be violent. Do you agree?
Scrooge: Oh, I think the world's becoming a very hard and cruel place, Mr. Marley. One must steel oneself to survive it and not be crushed under it and not be crushed under the weak and infirm.
Marley: I think we have many things in common, Mr. Scrooge. [cited in Guida, 107]
We have been treated to many an eloquent and emaciated Marley, but Sir Michael Hordern's 1951 performance as both the suave and knowing man of business and the pathetic, lugubrious ghost who renounces that identity and its ethos is still remarkable in the relatively brief, 86-minute film adaptation. He is Scrooge's twin psychologically as well as physically, although some five years younger than Sim at the time of filming. The look-alike quality of the two anti-Cheerybles began with Frederick York's twenty-five slide magic lantern show of 1880. In both the 1984 and 1999 films, Marley's death is presented as an emotional catalyst for Scrooge. The 1984 screenplay by Roger O. Hirson opens with a funeral procession, presumably that of Jacob Marley, as his death is mentioned by the narrator (Roger Rees). Similarly, in the 1999 made-for-tv film, Peter Barnes' teleplay begins with callous Patrick Stewart as Marley's (Bernard Lloyd's) executor at his funeral in the metropolitan cemetery, then ages the shop front to bring us up-to-date with Scrooge's heightened emotional isolation. The runaway performance in that Freudianized Carol, however, is that of American actor Joel Grey of Cabaret, (1972) Oscar-winning fame as The Ghost of Christmas Past, not a strong presence with Michael Dolan as the white-haired Druid in the 1951 film, but definitely tinged with irony here.
But writing about cinematic and made-for-tv adaptations of the 1843 classic novella is very much like trying to hit a moving target, or cutting the heads off the Lernaean Hydra in Hercules' second labour: no sooner has one provided an evaluative overview of the principal adaptations between the first in 1908 and the last with Jim Carrey in 2009 than another, newer, more innovative Carol will arrive on the silver or digital screen. A South Park Christmas Carol, "Chapter One: Kenny is Dead" (23 December 2009) is not likely to be the last in a long line of adaptations and parodies. Long live Ebenezer Scrooge McDuck, Walt Disney's 1947 perennial favourite. May there never be a definitive Carol to halt the yuletide flow of one hundred and sixty years.
The Silent Carol
About the turn of the century, as new theatrical adaptations displaced the "authorized" dramatic text by Edward Stirling for American and British stages, screen-writers were discovering the Carol's potential for cinematic adaptation. The first recorded film, Scrooge; or Marley's Ghost, was produced for the silent screen in 1901 by British writer and cinematographer Walter R. Booth (1869-1938). Further film versions, silent but accompanied by thrilling music, appeared in Nickelodeons in 1908, 1910, 1912, 1913, and 1914. Philip Bolton in Dickens Dramatized lists the first such adaptation as the screenplay produced by Essanay in the United States and reviewed in The Motion Picture Herald, Volume 3 (5 December 1908). Clearly the release of this first film was timed to coincide with the Yuletide season. Likewise, Thomas Alva Edison's foray into Carol 13-minute adaptation, directed by Ashley Miller and written by J. Searle Dawley, was released on 23 December 1910. The first recorded English full-length feature was filmed at Hepworth, English, in 1913, with Seymour Hicks as the eponymous figure in Old Scrooge. In 1914, Harold Shaw wrote and directed a third English Carol. Two years later, E. J. Clawson wrote and Rupert Julian (1879–1943) directed a third American version, The Right to be Happy, in 1916. Thus ended the relatively short, magic-lantern derived Silent Era productions of the novella-on-celluloid. Although not included for the twentieth-century, numerous radio plays were broadcast, particularly on BBC. The following represents a listing of all "talkies," beginning in the midst of the Great Depression of the twentieth century. The IMDb database also shows a January 1922 British film entitled Scrooge, written by W. Courtney Rowden, produced by H. B. Parkinson, directed by George Wynn, and starring H. V. Esmond. A short 1923 British version directed by Edwin Greenwood featured Russell Thorndike as Scrooge, with Nina Vanna (Alice), Jack Denton (Bob Cratchit), and Forbes Dawson (Marley). Veteran Dickensian actor Bransby Williams in 1928 brought his Ebenezer Scrooge from the English stage to the silent screen in Scrooge, which he wrote and Hugh Croise directed.
The Carol as a Talkie, 1935-2009
1935 14 Dec. Scrooge. Screenwriter: H. Fowler Mear; Director: Henry Edwards. Paramount, England. Long-established stage-actor Sir Seymour Hicks reprised his stage and earlier screen performances.
1938 23 Dec. A Christmas Carol. Screenwriter: Hugo Butler; Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz; Director: Edwin L. Marin. MGM, USA. Reginald Owen starred as Scrooge, supported by Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, and Terry Kilburn. 69 mins. The film debuted at Radio City Music Hall, NYC.
1943 Dec. A Christmas Carol. [early experimental television version, 60 mins.] Director: George Lowther. Stars: Lon Clark, Roger De Koven, Ralph Locke, William Podmore (Scrooge).
1947. (Spanish language). A Legend of Christmas [Leyenda de Navidad]. Written and directed by Michael Tamayo. Actors: Jesús Tordesillas (Scrooge), Ramón Martori (Marley), Manuel Requena (Christmas Present), Lina Yegros, Emilio Santiago (Bob Cratchit), Fernando Aguirre (Ghost of Christmas Past). 80 mins. Barcelona, Cataluña, Spain: Varios.
1951 29 Nov. A Christmas Carol. Screenwriter: Noel Langley; Producer & Director: Brian Desmond Hurst. Renown, England (Pinewood Studios). Score by Richard Addinsell. Alastair Sim starred as Scrooge. Supporting cast: Michael Hordern (Marley), Mervyn Johns (Bob Cratchit), Glyn Dearman (Tiny Tim), Kathleen Harrison (Mrs. Dilber), Hermione Baddeley (Mrs. Cratchit), George Cole (Young Ebenezer Scrooge), Francis de Wolff (Christmas Present), John Charlesworth (Peter Cratchit), Rona Anderson (Alice), Carol Marsh (Fan Scrooge), Brian Worth (Fred, Scrooge's nephew), Miles Malleson (Old Joe), Ernest Thesiger (undertaker's man), Michael Dolan (Spirit of Christmas Past), Olga Edwardes (Fred's wife), Roddy Hughes (Fezziwig), Hattie Jacques (Mrs. Fezziwig), Eleanor Summerfield (Miss Flora), Louise Hampton (Scrooge's laundress), C. Konarski (Christmas Yet to Come), Eliot Makeham (Mr. Snedrig), David Hannaford (boy sent for the turkey), Patrick Macnee (Young Marley), and Jack Warner (Mr. Jorkin). The mechanical dolls in the toyshop by M. Steiner. The film debuted at The Guild Theatre, 11 Garrick Street, London.
1956 23 Dec. The Stingiest Man in Town. musical. Made for television's Alcoa Hour. USA. Director: Daniel Petrie. Stars: Basil Rathbone (Scrooge), Philippa Bevans (Mrs. Dilber), Vic Damone (Young Scrooge), Johnny Desmond (Fred), The Four Lads (carolers), Alice Frost (Mrs. Cratchit), Martun Green (Bob Cratchit), Bryan Herbert (Mr. Fezziwig), Keith Herrington (Christmas Yet to Come), Dennis Kohler (Tiny Tim), Robert Weede (Marley), Betty Madigan (Martha Cratchit), Ian Martin (Christmas Past), Richard Morse (Peter Cratchit), Patrice Munsel (Belle), and Robert Wright (Christmas Present).
1962 24 Dec. A Christmas Carol. opera.
1974 Dec. A Christmas Carol. Director: John Salaway. Anglia tv, Great Britain.
1970. Scrooge. Screenwriter Leslie Bricusse. Producer: Robert H. Sold. Director: Ronald Neame. musical. Starring Albert Finney as Scrooge, Alex Guiness as Marley, Edith Evans as The Spirit of Christmas Past, David Coolings as Bob Cratchit, Kenneth Moore as Christmas Present, Laurence Naismith as Fezziwig, Michael Medwin (Nephew Fred), David Collings (Bob Cratchit), Paddy Stone (Christmas Yet to Come), and Richard Beaumont as Tiny Tim. Great Britain.
1971 21 Dec. A Christmas Carol. cartoon. Narrated by Sir Michael Redgrave, with the voices of Michael Hordern (Marley) and Alastair Sim (Scrooge). ABC television, USA.
1972 21 Dec. Re-broadcast 25 Dec. 1973. A Christmas Carol. cartoon. Narrated by Sir Michael Redgrave, with the voices of Michael Hordern (Marley) and Alastair Sim (Scrooge). BBC television, Great Britain.
1973 27 Dec. A Christmas Carol. Marcel Marseau's mime. BBC television, Great Britain.
1977 24 December. A Christmas Carol. Director: Moira Armstrong. Producer: Jonathon Powell. Screenwriter: Elaine Morgan. Starring Michael Hordern as Scrooge, John Le Mesurier as Marley, Bernard Lee as The Spirit of Christmas Present, Patricia Quinn as Christmas Past, Paul Copley as Fred, Clive Merrison as Bob Cratchit, June Brown as Mrs. Dilber, Michael Mulcaster as Christmas Yet to Come, and Timothy Chasin as Tiny Tim. BBC television, Great Britain.
1979 25 Dec. A Christmas Carol. Director: Moira Armstrong. Screenwriter: Elaine Morgan. Producer: Jonathon Powell. Starring Sir Michael Hordern as Scrooge, John le Mesurier as Marley, Bernard Lee as The Spirit of Christmas Present. BBC television, Great Britain.
1983. Mickey's Christmas Carol. Screenwriter: Mattinson. Walt Disney, USA.
1984 early Dec. A Christmas Carol. Screenwriter: Roger O. Hirson. Director: Clive Donner. Starring George C. Scott as Scrooge, Frank Finlay as Marley, Angela Pleasence as Ghost of Christmas Past, Edward Woodward as Ghost of Christmas Present, David Warner as Bob Cratchit, Susannah York as Mrs. Cratchit, Anthony Walters as Tiny Tim, Roger Rees as Fred Holywell (Scrooge's nephew), Mark Strickson as Young Scrooge, Peter Woodthorpe as Old Joe, Timothy Bateson as Fezziwig, Liz Smith as Mrs. Dilber, and Ian Giles as the boy who gets the turkey. [Filmed at Shrewsbury, at whose Music Hall gave his first public reading of the Carol.] Pinewood Studios, England. Broadcast on CBS television 17 Dec. 1984.
[Philip Bolton's 1987 account of cinematic and tv adaptations ends here.]
1988. Blackadder's Christmas Carol. 43 min. sketch. Director: Richard Boden. Producer: John Lloyd. Screenwriters: Richard Curtis & Ben Elton. Starring Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder and Tony Robinson as Baldrick, Robbie Coltrane as The Spirit of Christmas, Jim Broadbent as Prince Albert and Miriam Margolyes as Queen Victoria. BBC (GB) & PBS (USA).
1988. Scrooged. Director: Clive Donner. Starring Bill Murray as Frank Cross, Carol Kane as Christmas Present, David Johansen as Christmas Past, Jamie Farr as Jacob Marley, Buddy Hackett as Scrooge, John Houseman as the narrator, Chaz Conner Jr. as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and The Solid Gold Dancers as The Scroogettes.
1997. A Christmas Carol. Animated. Director: Stan Phillips. Screenwriter: Jymn Magon. Featiring the voices of Tim Curry (Scrooge), Whoopi Goldberg (Spirit of Christmas Present), Michael York (Bob Cratchit), Ed Asner (Marley), Jarrad Kritzstein (Tiny Tim). 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (released on dvd 2001).
1997 10 Dec. Ms. Scrooge. Director: John Korty. Screenwriter: John McGreevey. Starring Cicely Tyson as Ms. Ebenita Scrooge, John Bourgeois (Cratchit), William Greenblatt (Tiny Tim), Michael J. Reynolds (Christmas Past), Shaun Austin-Olsen (Christmas Present), Julian Richings (Christmas Yet to Come). Wilshire Court Productions. USA.
1999. A Christmas Carol. Director & Producer: David Hugh Jones. Screenwriter: Peter Barnes. Starring Patrick Stewart as Scrooge, Richard Grant (Bob Cratchit), Joel Grey (Christmas Past), Saskia Reeves (Mrs. Cratchit), Bernard Lloyd (Marley), Dominic West (Fred), Trevor Peacock (Old Joe), Liz Smith (Mrs. Dilber), Kenny Doughty (Young Scrooge), Michael Green (Fezziwig), Ben Tibber (Tiny Tim), Leanne Howard-Williams (Want), Daniel Booroff (Ignorance), and Desmond Barrit (Christmas Present). Great Britain.
2000 20 Nov. A Christmas Carol. TV movie. Screenwriter: Peter Bowker. Director: Catherine Morshead. Starring Ross Kemp as Eddie Scrooge, Michael Maloney (Bob Cratchett), Ray Fearon (Marley). United Kingdom.
2004 28 Nov. A Christmas Carol: The Musical. Director: Arthur Allan Seidelman. Screenwriters: Lynn Ahrens & Mike Ockrent (music). Starring Kelsey Grammar as Scrooge, Jesse L. Martin (Christmas Present), Jane Krakowski (Christmas Past), Geraldine Chaplin (Christmas Yet to Come), Claire Moore (Mrs. Fezziwig), Jason Alexander (Marley), Jason Alexander (Bob Cratchit), Jacob Moriarty (Tiny Tim), Julian Ovenden (Fred). Hallmark. Television. USA.
2009 6 Nov. A Christmas Carol. Animated. Screenwriter & Director: Robert Zemeckis. Starring Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge (and Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come; Scrooge as teenager and young man), Gary Oldman as Bob Cratchit, Marley, and Tiny Tim; Steve Valentine as Topper and the undertaker; Colin Firth as Fred; Daryl Sabara as caroller, undertaker's apprentice, and Peter Cratchit; Robin Wright Penn as both Fan and Belle; Bob Hoskins as both Fezziwig and Old Joe; Fionnula Flanagan as Mrs, Dilber; Kerry Hoyt as Ignorance and Julene Renee as Want.
2013 19 Nov. A Christmas Carol. Director: Jason Figgis. Starring Vincent Fegan as Scrooge, Laurence Foster as Charles Dickens, Bryan Murray as Marley, Jane Elizabeth Walsh as Mrs. Cratchit. Pop Twist Entertainment. USA.
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Glavin, John (ed.). Dickens on Screen. Cambridge: Cambridge U. P., 2003.
Guida, Fred. "A Christmas Carol" and Its Adaptations. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000.
Keeling, Robert. "A Christmas Carol": the best and worst adaptations. Den of Geek. 20 Dec 2012. http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/23887/a-christmas-carol-the-best-and-worst-adaptations.
Kuzzn. "Various A Christmas Carol Film Adaptations (Also Includes Films with Non-Traditional Stories)." 2 Dec 2012. IMDb. http://www.imdb.com/list/ls050850349/
Morely, Malcolm. "Curtain up on A Christmas Carol. Dickensian 47 (1951): 159-164.
Created 2 February 2015