‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’ review: a pleasant seasonal offering

The cheeriest movie about writers’ block that you’ll ever see, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” reminds us that even the famously prolific Charles Dickens had trouble with deadlines. 3 out of 4 stars.

The cheeriest movie about writers’ block that you’ll ever see, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” reminds us that even the famously prolific Charles Dickens had trouble with deadlines; news that should lighten the spirits of all writers. (I am, for the record, writing this review ahead of deadline, which is something of a holiday miracle.) Directed by Bharat Nalluri, whose 2008 film “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” is an underseen pleasure, it’s a pleasant Christmas-season offering; both mild (read: family-friendly) and sweet.

Dan Stevens (the lamented Cousin Matthew of “Downton Abbey”), agreeably chewing the scenery like it’s a particularly tough bit of plum pudding, plays Dickens, a man at a crossroads in 1843: Though internationally famous at the age of 31, he’s had a string of novels that flopped, a growing family to support, and a London town house in the throes of very expensive refurbishment. Suddenly, staring into the abyss of a blank page, he has an inspiration: A book about Christmas! His publishers hate the idea (“People don’t like to see the poor in books,” he’s reminded) and so Dickens sets out, frantically, to write and self-publish the book in six weeks, desperate to finish it by mid-December. For a title, he suggests “Humbug: A Miser’s Lament”; the world now knows it as “A Christmas Carol.”

Despite its title (borrowed from the nonfiction book by Les Standiford, on which the movie is based), the movie doesn’t really make a case for Dickens having “invented” Christmas, nor does it tell us much about how the book changed the holiday. It does, however, offer a stockingful of treats: Stevens’ delightfully theatrical Dickens,…

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