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Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)


Main image of Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
35mm, black and white, silent, 620 feet (surviving footage)
DirectorW.R. Booth
Production CompanyPaul's Animatograph Works

The miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge is confronted by Marley's ghost, and by visions of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

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Produced by the English movie pioneer R.W. Paul, this version of A Christmas Carol was, until the 2011 rediscovery of the Bleak House-derived The Death of Poor Joe (d. G.A. Smith, c.1900/1901), believed to be the earliest adaptation of Dickens' work on film. The only known print, held by the BFI, is incomplete, but manages to tell enough of the story for it to be recognisable. As so often in the cinema's early days, the filmmakers chose to adapt an already well-known story, assuming the audience's familiarity with the tale meant less need for excessive inter-titles.

There is evidence to suggest that Paul's version of A Christmas Carol was based as much on J.C Buckstone's popular stage adaptation as on Dickens' original story. In common with the play, the film dispenses with the different ghosts that visit Scrooge and instead relies upon the figure of Marley, draped in a white sheet, to point out the error of Scrooge's ways.

Although somewhat flat and stage-bound to modern eyes, this first cinematic excursion into Dickens' most popular tale was an ambitious undertaking at the time. Not only did it attempt to tell an 80-page story in five minutes, but it featured impressive trick effects, superimposing Marley's face over the door knocker and the scenes from his youth over a black curtain in Scrooge's bedroom. Paul was a trick film specialist and Walter Booth - credited with the film's direction - was a well-known magician.

Ewan Davidson

*The surviving fragment of this film can be downloaded in its entirety from the BFI's Creative Archive. Note that this material is not limited to users in registered UK libraries and educational establishments: it can be accessed by anyone within the UK under the terms of the Creative Archive Licence. It is also included in the BFI DVD compilations 'Dickens Before Sound' and 'R.W. Paul: The Collected Films 1895-1908'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete surviving film (3:26)
Death of Poor Joe (1900/01)
Scrooge (1913)
Scrooge (1951)
Christmas Carol, A (1977)
Booth, W.R. (1869-1938)
Paul, R.W. (1869-1943)
Dickens on Film