It sometimes seems that each of us who have grown up celebrating Christmas has a film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that we know well and have seen repetitively over the course of our lifetime.
The 1951 Alastair Sim version may be the most “canonical” of the various adaptations, but each cinematic take has its partisans. For me, the reigning film adaptation will always be Ronald Neame’s Scrooge (1970), which I watch every Christmas Eve as a matter of firm tradition. It came out at the right time to be a major event in my parents’ childhoods, and they ensured it was part of mine.
Neame’s Scrooge was one of the last gasps of the old-fashioned epic musical film spectacular, and much of its charm was diminished in the pan-and-scan days of VHS. Now that it has released on Blu-ray, Scrooge‘s lavish production design and cinematography can once again be properly admired and esteemed. Scrooge is a proper Christmas feast of a film, a bit overstuffed, but satisfying and pleasurable nonetheless.
As with any familiar, oft-retold tale, the pleasures of a retelling lie in the grace notes applied to the familiar beats, and many of Scrooge‘s greatest coups are simply matters of astonishingly good casting. Albert Finney delivers an irresistibly amusing, astonishingly well-calibrated performance in the title role. Finney understands that Dickens’ Scrooge was always an absurd caricature, and he finds freedom in the character’s cartoonishness, effortlessly charting the character’s journey from extreme malice to abundant joy with surprising fluidity. But if Finney is the centerpiece, his performance is buttressed by a series of great turns from a supporting cast that includes Alec Guinness (surely the best Jacob Marley of them all), David Collings (a tender and endearing Bob Cratchit), and Kenneth More (a Ghost of Christmas Present who feels as great as he is supposed to be).
Bricusse’s lovely score provides the film’s throughline, and perhaps the only reason that its songs haven’t entered into the broader cultural lexicon is that its soundtrack has been stuck in limbo, unreleased. “Christmas Children,” in particular, should be a firm entry in the Christmas songbook.