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Christmas Carol, A (1977)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Christmas Carol, A (1977)
BBC2, tx. 24/12/1977
60 min, colour
Directed byMoira Armstrong
Production CompanyBBC
ProducerJonathan Powell
Script EditorBetty Willingale
Original novelCharles Dickens
MusicHerbert Chappell

Cast: Michael Hordern (Scrooge); John Le Mesurier (Jacob Marley); Bernard Lee (Ghost of Christmas Present); Clive Merrison (Bob Cratchit); Patricia Quinn (Ghost of Christmas Past); John Salthouse (young Scrooge); Zoë Wanamaker (Belle)

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Ebenezer Scrooge, an old and bitter miser, is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his partner Jacob Marley and, through three successive visions, shown the error of his ways.

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Charles Dickens' novella A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843, and proved such an enormous success that he followed it with three more Christmas books that combined ghosts with the festive season. There have been dozens of film and television adaptations since, ranging from 1901's Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (d. W.R. Booth) to A Christmas Carol on Ice (ITV, tx. 27/12/1966) and a recent ITV update starring Ross Kemp (tx. 20/12/2000). The BBC's 1977 adaptation, however, remains one of the most faithful and enjoyable, notable for its strong cast and impressive visual style, inspired in the main part by the original illustrations by John Leech, while the ghost sequences make ingenious use of special effects and impressionistic limbo sets.

This compact adaptation stays very close to the original, reproducing much of the dialogue verbatim. After the scene in Scrooge's office, in which the old miser is seen at his worst, comes the arrival of the permanently transparent ghost of Jacob Marley. John Le Mesurier has a fine cameo as Marley, and although never frightening, he does exert a strong sense of melancholy, his every move and inflection seemingly tinged with regret and remorse ("I wear the chain I forged in life").

Patricia Quinn is bathed in a lemon light as the Ghost of Christmas Past, in a sequence that quickly humanises Scrooge, depicting his lonely youth and disappointment in love. This last is shown through a single scene with Zoë Wanamaker, who is highly affecting in her sadness at the realisation that Scrooge loves money and business more than her. In terms of screen time, Bernard Lee is rather short-changed as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and it has to be said that the second part does feel rather rushed. This is particularly noticeable when the Ghost shows Scrooge the twinned children, Ignorance and Want; this somewhat cursory handling is especially unfortunate in this instance, as the scene was, in fact, one of the main reasons why Dickens' wrote the story, to highlight the plight of children living in poverty.

What anchors this adaptation, however, is Michael Hordern's Scrooge. He completely dominates the production, equally convincing as a cynical curmudgeon in the opening scenes and, later, as a panic-stricken old man terrified by the vision of his own dismal death. His final redemption and re-birth as a kinder and more generous human being is appropriately joyous and heart-warming.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Bah, humbug! (4:19)
2. Marley's ghost (2:34)
3. Poor Mr Scrooge (3:45)
4. Christmas Day (2:51)
Scrooge (1913)
Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901)
Hordern, Sir Michael (1911-1995)
Le Mesurier, John (1912-1983)
Lee, Bernard (1908-1981)
Wanamaker, Zoë (1949-)
Dickens on Television
Ghost Stories