Who was the best Scrooge on film?
Come December, this author will be eagerly dusting off his Christmas DVDs and settling down with a carton of eggnog to enjoy a handful of movie adaptations of A Christmas Carol.
The British character actor Alastair Sim has traditionally claimed the title of best Scrooge, for his sterling performance in the 1951 film. But does he deserve the accolade, or are there other actors who have excelled in the role? The competition is surprisingly fierce.
One of the earliest screen Scrooges was Seymour Hicks (pictured), in the 1935 film Scrooge. He played the old skinflint as a truly miserable, unlikeable character, unattractively scruffy and unkempt. Some screen Scrooges have been bumbling in a way that is almost endearing, but Hicks is a genuine wretch, never a loveable rogue. The tone of the film is exceptionally bleak, opening in dreary fashion with the sound of a Christmas carol being badly played through a thick London fog. Hicks, despite being forgotten in the wake of later portrayals of the miser, turned in a performance that rivals Sim and may well be closer in spirit to the dark, menacing Scrooge of Charles Dickens's original novel.
Another overlooked depiction of Ebenezer Scrooge is in the 1977 BBC version. The entire production, despite running just over one hour, is one of the most faithful adaptations of the book to date, capturing exquisitely the haunting, ghost-story elements of the tale. Michael Hordern plays the title role in this version; coincidentally, he was a marvellously memorable Marley's Ghost in the 1951 film.
George C Scott's performance in the 1984 TV movie, directed by Clive Donner, has also received high praise. Here again is a version that reflects much of the bleak, gritty reality of the story's Dickensian origins, and Scott plays Scrooge as a severe taskmaster, yet a man of apparent principle. And of course Dickens's Scrooge was, albeit in a strange way, a man of principle, opposed to the "humbug" of Christmas precisely because he perceived it as a hypocrisy.
Dozens of other actors have taken on the part over the decades, including Patrick Stewart, Albert Finney, Basil Rathbone and Jim Carrey. Hicks, Hordern and Scott give Sim a run for his jealously guarded money, but perhaps there is good reason why Sim remains the silver screen's best-loved Scrooge. No one presented quite such a mirthful and inspiring transformation as Sim. It is hard not to bubble over with gladness along with Sim as he tosses his quill aside and collapses with glee at the end of A Christmas Carol (1951). He gives us the mean-spirited miser, but later provides us with a redeemed Scrooge who warms the heart, brought merrily and unforgettably alive by the spirit of the festive season.
Buy Scrooge/A Christmas Carol on DVD and Blu-ray