I continue to be surprised at our ongoing fascination with ‘A Christmas Carol’, most particularly with Ebenezer Scrooge whose dismay on seeing the length of Marley’s chain is palpably obvious (right). As those who know me can attest, Christmastime for me resurrects ‘Bah!’ and ‘Humbug’ back into my vocabulary, which as everyone knows equally well, is just smoke and mirrors, disguising the fact that I detest the Santa hats, beery bonhomie, false gaiety (am I still allowed to use that word) and generally hollow merrymaking that seems to clothe the season, while my thoughts turn to starry Judean hillsides and quiet village stables.
The new 3D movie, however, is quite remarkable. Jim Carrey’s Scrooge , apart from a passing resemblance to Albert Steptoe, left, is juicily malevolent until his final, heartrending conversion, Tiny Tim’s roundly innocent face warms the heart and a gigantically motherly Mrs Fezziwig pirouettes improbably. The flying sequences where Scrooge journeys into his past, present and future like a superannuated Peter Pan are, well, breathtaking. All told, a grand night out.
Perhaps one of the most powerful moments in the movie was when a small, dirty foot appears under the cloak of The Ghost of Christmas Present, and two children are revealed. The Ghost explains “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.” The dark rage on the boy’s face was haunting. The Ghost surely means to contrast education which feeds the mind, a satisfaction of curiosity and a freedom to think for oneself with the insupportable yoke of Gradgrind’s ‘facts’. It is only a step further to imagine madrassas run by fanatical imams who cloak education in a disguise of righteousness to visualise the damage that can, indeed has been, caused.
Dickens himself worked tirelessly for a wide range of charitable causes, raising funds for soup kitchens, emigration schemes, housing associations, prison reform, hospitals, adult education, and disabled artists. He also believed that through his fiction he could promote moral solutions to social ills and could change society for the better. I think he succeeded. The final shot is a scene from Rochester’s Dickens festival, an annual event to celebrate Victoriana in my home town. Everybody dresses up and has too much to drink. I knew the King’s Head rather well…