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A Christmas Carol (1984): Film Review

Updated on September 20, 2011

Clive Donner directs George C Scott and an all-star cast in this enduringly popular version of the classic seasonal tale

In this 1984 TV movie, George C Scott plays Dickens's famous miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, whose mean-spirited ways are challenged by the appearance of three ghosts on Christmas Eve.

Adaptations of A Christmas Carol stand or fall on the performance of the actor playing Scrooge. George C Scott plays the title role as sharp, principled (in his own weird way) and with his wits firmly about him, in contrast to the way, say, Reginald Owen played him in 1938, or Kelsey Grammer in the later TV musical (2004). No shuffling and hunching and comical mumbling here. He's no caricature, but a very believable character.

Scrooge's increasing anxiety in the final segment, as he struggles to avoid what he knows is true--that the dead man in his vision is him--is particularly well-played, and his desperate pleas as he sees his own grave and acknowledges his fate are both convincing and curiously painful.

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Scene from A Christmas Carol (1984): Marley's Ghost Visits Scrooge

Frank Finlay plays Marley's Ghost, bringing to the role some of the camp qualities associated with Michael Hordern (1951) and Alec Guinness (1970), but with a suitable eeriness, too. His fixed expression and occasionally robotic delivery of the lines has a remarkably chilling effect. As the Ghost of Christmas Present, Edward Woodward is jolly at the right time and frighteningly stern at other times, as the character ought to be. Angela Pleasance was the right choice to play the Ghost of Christmas Past, which Dickens describes as androgynous. Only Roger Rees seems a bit out-of-place, appearing much too morose as Scrooge's nephew, Fred.

Director Clive Donner handles the horror aspects of the story excellently; a failing in many adaptations. A Christmas Carol is, after all, a ghost story. Key scenes such as Marley's arrival in Scrooge's chambers and Scrooge's visit to the graveyard with the Ghost of Christmas Future exude a genuinely frightening atmosphere.

The film is one of the few versions of the story to feature extensive shooting on location, rather than confined to a studio backlot. The English town of Shrewsbury stands in for Victorian London, giving the production a pleasing authenticity. The prop men left behind Scrooge's gravestone in St Chad's churchyard, where it can still be seen today.

Those intimately familiar with Dickens's novel will appreciate this version for its faithfulness to the source. Its popularity ensures it airs regularly on TV, and for fans who'd like to savour the movie all year round, it is now available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray.

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    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      I haven't seen this particular version, but there have been so many versions, the story starts to lose it's appeal, which is a shame, since it's such a classic.

      I liked Albert Finney and Patrick Stewart's versions, although the Alister Simm and Reginald Owen versions were very classy.

    • KristenGrace profile image

      KristenGrace 6 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      I think I've only seen clips from this one... My favorite is that really old one from 1951. Great acting there. It's a classic story, and it's always interesting to see different versions.

    • Rattigan profile image
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      Rattigan 6 years ago from St Catharines, Ontario

      They used to show several versions a year on TV when I was growing up (in the UK), but in the last 10 or 15 years, they've been fewer and farther between. I watched this version several times as a kid, and then revisited it this year and last. Since reading the Dickens novel again, this one has really grown on me. The 1970 musical has always been a personal favourite. First I ever saw.

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      diogenes 6 years ago

      I believe I have seen this version, there have beeen so many. The movie is one of the highlights of Christmas television for me; strange how it remains evergreen despite so many editions and so much viewing. I don't know which version(s) we have this year in the UK...Bob