Title: A Christmas Carol (BBC 2019)
Genre: Classic (adaptation)
I haven’t watched a lot of adaptations on television lately but these past few days I decided to settle in and watch the BBC’s new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. This adaptation aired over three consecutive nights in the lead up to Christmas and led to mixed reviews. I decided to watch without any pre-judgement so ignored all reviews, but after seeing all three one-hour episodes I’m left feeling as disappointed as many others.
The story of A Christmas Carol is a well known one these days. Even if you haven’t read the original classic, chances are you’ve seen an adaptation or few somewhere on television or film (even if it’s just the Muppets version). Each time an adaptation is made it’s interesting to see the different direction it takes, with some adaptations veering away from the original story, perhaps setting it in modern times or changing the lead character of Scrooge to a female, while others add more to the original story and this is the direction this new BBC adaptation took. Rather than sticking to the pleasant and generally fun tale that most adaptations take, this new drama took a dark turn and showed the dark side of Scrooge’s character, while delving deeper into his dark past.
The first episode of the show focused a lot of attention on Scrooge’s former business partner Jacob Marley. While Marley’s ghost does visit Scrooge in the original story, in most adaptations this is usually a brief visit at the start to explain how he is bound in chains, a result of his own greed and the life he led, and he warns Scrooge that the same will happen to him and he will be visited by three spirits. However this new adaptation gave Marley more of a story and showed us exactly why he is so keen to get Scrooge to change his ways. Mini-spoiler: It turns out that his own after life is directly affected by Scrooge, and if Scrooge doesn’t change then Marley is stuck forever and cannot rest in peace.
While this is happening with Marley, in other parts of the episode we are introduced to Guy Pearce as Scrooge who, while looking good in the part, unfortunately spends a long time speaking lines that are so quiet and mumbled it was impossible to hear without turning up the volume a serious amount. I had to shush everyone in the room, getting nobody to move in their seats or even scratch lest they make a sound, in order to hear the words at a decent increased volume and in the end subtitles had to be brought in to listen to half of the words spoken in the entire drama. The BBC has had a lot of complaints about their dramas featuring dialogue that’s hard to hear, I didn’t know it was such a problem until I’d sat down to watch this.
The rest of the first episode focused on just introducing the characters. Bob Cratchit’s character is interesting, rather than the more humble man we usually see, in this drama he isn’t afraid of speaking his mind to his boss Ebenezer Scrooge, and he even makes a statement about the general working conditions and unemployment in the city, which I couldn’t help but think was an attempt by the BBC to put in some political points about the current state of the nation today (something which they’ve been prone to doing lately, and blatantly).
The first episode ends disappointingly with nothing really having happened yet and the only big event being Marley visiting his former partner. It isn’t until the second episode that we begin to explore Scrooge’s past which leads to brief moments of humour, when the spirit of Christmas past turns briefly into different characters that Scrooge knows. As the story progresses though we are shown a very dark past which a young Scrooge had to endure, with abuse of various kinds being doled out. Some of this is insinuated rather than being shown but it’s enough to get the point across well and leave you feeling for the poor little Ebenezer. The story then turns towards Scrooge as a younger businessman and the things that he and Marley did together before the darkest thing he’s ever done in his past (apparetnly) leading to a cliffhanger ending of the second episode.
The last episode begins with this dark deed and while I won’t say what it is, I will say that I was disappointed with the way this was drawn out. It was interesting if not a little disconcerting to see Scrooge act in this way towards a certain character, but it also felt disappointing in the way this issue and these scenes were drawn out, no doubt for effect, but ultimately leading to very little having happened. In fact rather than ending in a dramatic moment, as I’m sure the director intended, all I saw was a character who went from one minute of being timid and humble to the next speaking their mind and even cursing the f swear word at Scrooge, it just didn’t feel anywhere near realistic.
The last episode was the most interesting, cramming in both the ghost of Christmas present and future as well as the ultimate positive ending that we expect from the story. Fitting so much into one episode though felt a shame as we didn’t at all explore the Christmas present with Scrooge’s nephew, although he did make an appearance early on in the first episode. The whole episode happened so quickly too that it felt the whole drama had just missed out so much, it left me feeling empty rather than satisfied having watched it.
While the last episode was more dramatic, emotional and interesting to watch than the first two, the whole drama felt completely disappointing and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, and I certainly don’t feel like watching it again. The action felt dull in the the first two episodes, with long scenes drawn out of discussions and musings and very little happening, while the last desperately tried to fill in all the blanks while leaving huge gaping holes in places. While the new darker take on Scrooge’s character and the story on the whole is one I welcomed, it wasn’t done well with certain scenes leaving me confused as to what happened to certain chracters. Scrooge’s private life and former love in his past was barely explored except as a brief fantasy that never came to be. His nephew came to see him at the start of the drama but was never seen or really mentioned again, making his early appearance a useless addition to the plot. And the ending, though focusing well on the Crachit family, ended very abruptly with little more shown of Scrooge and his new selfless ways, and instead one character almost breaking the 4th wall with the last line uttered, making me believe that this was once again a message the BBC was sending to the outer world rather than just focusing on the classic tale.
The entire show was marred by the terrible hushed almost whispering voices of the cast when they spoke, making it impossible to hear anything unless you turned the volume to full, but then contrasted by the painfully loud noise of every sound effect. The darkness of the whole drama was clearly reflected in the darkness of most scenes, not in the emotional sense though, but the literal darkness which left me wanting to turn the brightness up on my television just so I could see everything properly. The use of swearing, in particular the over-use of the f swear word actually felt ridiculous at times, out of place in this Victorian drama and it felt almost as if it was put in just for dramatic effect. It just sounded out of place and annoying, especially when all classes of character seemed to utter the same vulgarities.
This really was a disappointing drama to watch and I really wouldn’t recommend it to anyone unless you are interested in something that leaves you feeling disatisfied and wondering what happened to some of the story. I can’t help but wonder if there was enough filmed for a forth episode, perhaps featuring Scrooge’s nephew in the Chrsitmas past, but then cut to fit it into three, we’ll never know as this drama has an ending that just never explores that character while taking too much time exploring others. It’s a shame as the acting wasn’t bad, if not for the hushed voices, and there were moments that truly felt dramatic and exciting, with some good humour thrown in, and some special effects that were brilliant to watch. But overall rather than feling emotionally satisfied and happy about the whole thing, I feel like I wasted three hours of my life watching this and with that ending just finishing so fast it leaves me forever wondering what more could we have seen of the new Scrooge? Why couldn’t we enjoy more of a happy ending or did that last line suggest that it’s up to us to create it ourselves?
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Did you watch this BBC adaptation of A Christmas Carol? What adaptations do you enjoy? Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂