Wednesday 5 December 2012

Dickensian Gothic: A Christmas Carol

David L Rattigan opens a creaking door on Charles Dickens’s Gothic tale

The year was 1843, and English literature had witnessed the zenith of early Gothic horror in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). On the other side of the Atlantic, Edgar Allen Poe was reimagining the genre in such tales as The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) and The Tell-Tale Heart (1843). And in Britain, Charles Dickens was appropriating the Gothic tradition for his own stories; the conventions of the Gothic were to loom particularly large in late works such as Bleak House (1852) and Great Expectations (1860), but it was in a series of Christmas stories that he first explored the genre fully. The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), The Battle of Life (1846) and The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain (1848) are now forgotten by popular culture, but the first, A Christmas Carol (1843), continues to be read by millions and has been the subject of dozens of film adaptations.

Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol primarily to expose the horrors of real-world injustice, but he chose to hang his social commentary on a literary framework owing much to Gothic horror. It is easy to forget that in genre terms, the tale of Scrooge is primarily a ghost story; it was originally ...

Read the full article at Bedlam: A Journal of Horror & the Macabre.

Behind the Scenes of A Christmas Carol

This behind-the-scenes video from ACT Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol really captures something of the joy of Charles Dickens's tale, I think.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

It's (Almost) the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

It's almost Christmas, and already this reader's mind is turning to Charles Dickens's seasonal tale A Christmas Carol.

Got a stage production of Scrooge or A Christmas Carol coming up? Get in touch, and I'll do my best to publicize it on this Scrooge blog.

In the meantime, get yourself in the festive mood by reading A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, online.

Thursday 15 December 2011

National Theatre Scotland's A Christmas Carol

This production of A Christmas Carol by National Theatre Scotland uses a combination of puppets and live action. It looks rather menacing from this trailer:

Audiences of 90 are seated right in Scrooge's counting house for the show, which runs at Film City, Glasgow, until December 31, 2011.

Below, an enlightening interview with writer and director Graham McLaren and other cast and crew members about their approach to adapting Dickens's story for modern theatre audiences:

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Watch A Christmas Carol (1971)

Twenty years after he portrayed the definitive Scrooge on screen, Alastair Sim returned to the role, albeit in voice only, for this animated version of A Christmas Carol. Michael Hordern also returned, as the ghost of Jacob Marley.

The short TV film, which runs for 25 minutes, was directed by Canadian animator Richard Williams and shown in the US on ABC on Tuesday, December 21, 1971. It was given a theatrical release the following year and received the 1972 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. I believe it's the only version of Dickens's book to win an Oscar, although the British musical Scrooge (1970) was nominated in four categories.

The film is a delight, condensing the story perfectly, so as to retain the absolutely essential elements, including a very sinister atmosphere and a keen sense of the social injustices that concerned Dickens. Compare it with the somewhat disappointing 1954 TV version of A Christmas Carol, starring Basil Rathbone, which has a similar length, to see what a difference this makes.

Chuck Jones, the late animator most fondly remembered for the Warner Bros Loony Tunes cartoons, produced the film, and a few well-known British thesps round out the cast of voices, including Sir Michael Redgrave (Narrator), Diana Quick (Ghost of Christmas Past) and Carry On actress Joan Sims (Mrs Cratchit).

Watch A Christmas Carol (1971) below:

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Scene from ACT Theatre's A Christmas Carol

I really enjoyed this scene from Seattle's ACT Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol. The adaptation is by American dramatist and ACT founder Gregory A Falls (1922-1999), and the show is now in its 36th year. I'm not familiar with the full play, but this excerpt, showing Ebenezer Scrooge's visitation from the Spirit of Christmas Past, is delightful. It even features Ali Baba and Robinson Crusoe from Charles Dickens's original story (which you can read online here). Actor David Pichette seems to have just the right liveliness and presence as Scrooge, and Sylvie Davidson's ghost is beautifully balletic.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Review: The Annotated Christmas Carol

The Annotated Christmas Carol: A Christmas Carol in Prose. Charles Dickens (author), Michael Patrick Hearn (editor/annotator), John Leech (illustrations)

Literary scholar (and renowned L Frank Baum expert) Michael Patrick Hearn has painstakingly researched the world of Dickens and Ebenezer Scrooge for this definitive commentary on A Christmas Carol. The notes, in columns parallel to the text of the novella itself, are fascinating in their detail, shedding light on every aspect of the story, its language, and its social and historical context.

It's preceded by a lengthy introduction providing the background on how Dickens came to write it and why. Hearn supplements his essay with plenty of snippets of contemporary material, including quotes, illustrations and artefacts from Dickens's time.

Things you'll learn from this must-have volume: from Dickens's description of the Spirit of Christmas Past, Scrooge is undoubtedly looking at his dip (candle); the Spirit of Christmas Present is none other than Father Christmas, the traditional festive figure of English folklore, rather than the later "Santa Claus" of American myth. Want to know more? Buy The Annotated Christmas Carol from

Friday 25 November 2011

Basil Rathbone as Scrooge (1954)

This rarely seen version of A Christmas Carol was broadcast on December 23, 1954, the fourth episode in the series Shower of Stars (1954-1958). The show usually took the format of a variety revue with celebrity guests such as Jack Benny, Shirley MacLaine and Ethel Merman, but occasionally there were plays like this one, starring Basil Rathbone as Ebenezer Scrooge. Fredric March is the narrator, and unknowns fill out the rest of the cast.

The story is heavily condensed to fill a mere 25 minutes. Sadly, the main victim is just about any reference to the injustices of Victorian London. The social concerns of "Ignorance and Want" were foremost in Dickens's mind when he wrote A Christmas Carol, so it's pleasing when an adaptation makes an attempt to set Scrooge's story in this context. It's almost entirely absent from this version, unfortunately.

Nevertheless, the chance to see Rathbone couples with the film's rarity to make it worth a look, even just to satisfy curiosity. Watch the videos below or click here to see the film on YouTube (in three parts).

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Watch Scrooge (1935), starring Seymour Hicks

Scrooge (1935) is one of my favourite adaptations of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Seymour Hicks plays the miser with such gruffness, and yet he is thankfully free of the crude caricature Reginald Owen was to bring to the role in 1938. His final transformation is delightful, displaying an almost childlike innocence and joy.

Two versions exist, one lasting just over an hour and missing some of the key scenes that make this version so enjoyable. The version to watch is the full film below, which runs for just over an hour and 15 minutes.

See also Old Scrooge, a curious 1913 silent film which starred Seymour Hicks in the same role.

Friday 11 November 2011

Old Scrooge (1913), starring Seymour Hicks

The 1935 film Scrooge, starring Seymour Hicks, is one of my favourite adaptations of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. It begins with such a bleak and gloomy atmosphere, much as the author described the scene in the book, and Hicks plays the miser with such dislikeable gruffness.

It was not Hicks's first attempt at the role on screen, however. In 1913, he played the part in a silent film, directed by Leedham Bantock. Its age certainly shows, but Old Scrooge is worth a look. It's particularly interesting to see how odd Ebenezer Scrooge appears in this version -- lanky, rather shifty. This was long before Alastair Sim's 1951 interpretation of the character, which in many ways defined how the character would be played by later actors and perceived by later generations.

Old Scrooge is notable for its prologue, featuring Charles Dickens in his home. His actual birthplace -- a house at number 1 Mile Terrace (now Commercial Road), Portsmouth -- is seen in the film.

Watch Part 1 of Old Scrooge below and the remaining four parts on YouTube: 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Many thanks to YouTuber dickenschristmas2011 for uploading this and several other versions of A Christmas Carol.