by Barry Norman
(BBC film critic)
There is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that, thanks largely though not entirely to Alastair Sim, this is the best of all screen adaptations of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”. The bad news is that you may have to watch it in a – yuk – “colourised” version.
Never mind that “colourise” (or “colorize” if you are American) is a horrible word; what it does is even worse. It covers a monochrome film in mostly washed out pastel colours, much to the detriment of the original photography, and makes it neither one thing nor the other.
So why do it? Because young people, apparently, refuse to watch movies in black and white. Idiots. By doing so they are depriving themselves of some of the greates films ever made.
However, in this case let us hope that somebody sees sense this year and shows the original monochrome version of what provides the ideal run-up to Christmas.
Cinema and TV have a tendancy to treat “A Christmas Carol” as a comedy (eg Bill Murray in Scrooged) or as a jolly story for kids featuring the Flinstones or the Muppets. But is is neither of those things. It is in fact a dark and spooky tale, as Brian Desmond Hurst’s film is at pains to remind us. Here we are not simply presented with a miserable wretch of a miser who, thanks to the intervention of a number of apparitions, manages to redeem himself and discover both the spirit of Christmas and his own inner humanity. Herewe are given the harsh backstory of the events that made him become a miserable wretch of a miser in the first place and, for good measure, Noel Langley’s screenplay doesn’t neglect Dicken’s obsession with the plight of the poor and the ignorance and injustice in Victorian London.
All this, plus the scary, foreboding appearance of Marley’s ghost and the various Spirits of Christmas with their horrifying visions of Scrooge’s past, present and – unless he changes his ways – future, is told in flashback. And the accumulation of such detail leads to a much sharper appreciation of Scrooge’s final transformation than yu get from the more anodyne versions.
In an excellent cast that includes George Cole as the young Ebeneezer Scrooge, Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley and Mervyn Johns as Bob Cratchit, Alastair Sim (in what is perhaps his finest performance) is quite outstanding as the older Scrooge. His long lugubrious face is perfectly suited to the shabby, tormented soul we first meet and he invests the gradual change from cynical old misanthrope to the final figure of benevolence with droll wit and intelligence. He was born to play Scrooge and nobody, I think, has played the part better.