Monday, December 8, 2008

A Christmas Carol (1999) (TV)

A Brilliant Performance from Patrick Stewart

160 years ago (1843), Charles Dickens (1812-1870) wrote one of his most beloved short stories, "A Christmas Carol". After the advent of film early in the twentieth century, several different directors have attempted to capture Charles Dickens' story, and various actors have portrayed the story's protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge.

Such was the case in 1999 when director David Hugh Jones directed an updated version of the classic story for television, which stared the venerable Shakespearean-trained actor Patrick Stewart. (Patrick Stewart was also one of the film's executive producers.) Patrick Stewart, who is well known for his portrayal of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the 7-year TV-series "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and 4 "Star Trek" feature films (as well as many other roles), has always used his Shakespearean training to create a very realistic performance in most anything that he does, and his portrayal of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge was no different.

Though some viewers have commented that the 1999 version of "A Christmas Carol" is joyless and that they haven't enjoyed it, the reality is that that more closely resembles the environment of Charles Dickens' original story. Hence, Patrick Stewart created a very realistic embodiment of what Charles Dickens envisioned for Ebenezer Scrooge: a joyless miser who has completely forgotten what it means to live and to love. Also, these same viewers neglect the amount of detail present in this rendition of the film that has often been absent in previous big-screen film versions, such as young Ebenezer's (Kenny Doughty) work for his first employer Mr. Albert Fezziwig (Ian McNeice) and the old women (played by Liz Smith and Elizabeth Spriggs) fighting over a deceased man's belongings.

Other memorable performances in the film include Jacob Marley (Bernard Lloyd), Bob Cratchit (Richard E. Grant), Mrs. Cratchit (Saskia Reeves), Tiny Tim Cratchit (Ben Tibber), Ebenezer's nephew Fred (Dominic West), Ebenezer's sister Fran (Rosie Wiggins), Mrs. Fezziwig (Annette Badland), the Ghost of Christmas Past (Joel Grey), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Desmond Barrit), The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Tim Potter) and Belle (Laura Fraser). Of the many actors who have portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge over the past century (George C. Scott in 1984, Albert Finney in 1970, Alastair Sim in 1951, and Reginald Owen in 1938 to name a few), I am glad to see Patrick Stewart numbered among them.

Overall, I rate the 1999 version of "A Christmas Carol" with 5 out of 5 stars and highly recommend it. Sadly, since the film was produced for television, it was not filmed in widescreen format (which is my only complaint about the film), but that does not take away from this film's splendid portrayal of Charles Dickens' classic short story. By M. Hart

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