A Christmas Carol (2 stars)

A Christmas Carol

Visually splendid but fundamentally flawed retelling of the classic Dickens story

The tale of the miserly Ebenezer is resurrected once again in Jacqui and David Morris's crack at the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. An all-star voice cast has been assembled; Carey Mulligan, Andy Serkis, Simon Russell Beale, Martin Freeman and Daniel Kaluuya make this a potentially mouth-watering prospect, and yet it's a bit of a struggle to stay engaged.

Still, the film is beautifully shot and staged, and audacious in its attempts to make the conventions of a stage production work for screen. It's narrated by Siân Phillips, who appears as a Victorian grandmother in a slightly stilted framing device at the outset, and proceeds to relay the familiar story to her grandchildren, who have a cardboard theatre from which the story springs. The events of the plot are enacted for the most part by dancers, who remain silent, yet offer physical expressions of the emotions at play, as the famous names do the talking.

Screenwriter David Morris abbreviates but largely adheres to Dickens' original text, as he recounts the folly of Scrooge (voiced by Beale and danced by Michael Nunn and Jakub Franasowicz) and the supernatural visitors who show him the error of his ways.

The filmmaking siblings' most notable work to date is the double BAFTA-nominated documentary McCullin, but this is substantially less successful. The lack of synchronicity between the onscreen performers and those voicing the dialogue is jarring, the vocals feel remote and untethered, making it hard to appreciate the actors' work, or even stay with the story, especially when shifts in the setting or myriad other distractions draw the eye mid-speech. It's an issue that's, quite frankly, impossible to overcome.

Despite this, there are elements to savour. Michael Wood's cinematography is fluid and silky, while striking, sinister imagery abounds; accompanying the appearance of Marley's ghost, for example – and if anyone can make their voice felt it's Serkis, who gives it some booming vigour. Those missing their fix of theatre or dance may well admire the set design and choreography, there is ample artistry on display. But, as a piece of cinema, it simply doesn't work.

Available to watch in cinemas and select theatres from Fri 4 Dec.

A Christmas Carol

  • 2 stars
  • 2020
  • UK
  • 1h 34min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Jacqui Morris
  • Cast: Carey Mulligan, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman
  • UK release: 4 December 2020

An inventive re-imagining of Dickens' classic, which enters the imagination of a young child in the audience of a Victorian production of A Christmas Carol. A Victorian family prepares a paper theatre for a performance of A Christmas Carol. The audience enters the imagination of one of the children and quickly, the…