Written by Charles Dickens
Adapted by David Morris
Directed by Jacqui Morris
Conceivably this year, Christmas finds itself closer to its Victorian traditions than before. With the grandeur and event-styled nature limited this year, Christmas looks to be closer to home; intimate, and family-centric. Regardless of how one chooses to spend the festive season, there is one tale which ripples across the globe for its sense of charity, spiritual kindness and above all else, the spectres and ghouls of Christmas. Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol is more than a tradition, it’s a legacy of literature and culture.
We begin A Christmas Carol, not with Ebenezer Scrooge, but a small Victorian family settling down to watch a children’s puppet show. Gradually, the story propels us into the folds of the paper theatre, down and around the folded arches as our pieces emerge from their yearly slumber. With their first breath, movement erupts. Principally forms of ballet, with infusions of folk dance, the choreography is the film’s essential asset, particularly when married to Alex Baranowski’s score which refrains from robbing moments and instead merges with the shifting tones of the production.
Before we embark too hastily on our tale, note that through the first flicks of the page, Morris catapults Dicken’s story into a mesmerically chilling and authentic opening. For those missing the ingenuity and intimacy of the theatre, the construct surrounding the set dressings, haunting melody and transitions is nothing short of a love letter to performance.
David and Jacqui Morris’ adaption and direction of the feature film is at its heart a work of theatre. While there is unquestionable art direction and canny shots from skilled cinematographer Michael Wood, the flowing movements, a scene like structure and visuals are typical of the theatrical medium. Bold, evident and exaggerated, Jacqui Morris conducts her dancers as this were a stage production, with Wood’s capturing the moments for the camera and weaving in and out of set-pieces as fluidly as possible.
For the most, almost entirely, David Morris’ adaptation strays little from Dicken’s original text and only tweaks aspects to shorten the runtime or push focus onto the film’s chosen areas. Here, there is less of a stake put into the primary cast and instead spread amongst the background shadows, no doubt to allow for troupe opportunities. Most evident and used strikingly is the introduction of Marley and the shackled ghouls who Scrooge spots from the window. Russell Maliphant emphasises the pain in Marley’s movements, and demonstrates no discomfort in the free-flowing pace with which he moves, ethereally mocking the stilted movements of Scrooge.
In terms of choreography, A Christmas Carol is exceptional in most parts, but lacklustre in moments. Characters with a more ‘questionable’ basis in reality (the crumbs of cheese or what have you) carry themselves with purpose. Dana Maliphant’s waifish Ghost of Christmas Past is delicate, Aneta Kharaishvili and Stevie Stewart’s costumes reflecting the magnificence of period costumes, but her movements have authority behind them. Aesthetically, the film’s lighting structure, rich make-up and looming, distraught flats and sets which house our players. A Christmas Carol is nothing short of a delectable curio, magnifying the haunting shadows and casting light across the inky illustrations.
The duality in choosing to dub over the movement, providing voice-over for the dancers raises expectations from the performers providing the vocal characterisation. Here we find the indulgent plumb puddings which feed into the dancer’s interpretations but also trod upon the burnt sprouts of those who cannot match the emotion of the physicality. Almost effortlessly, Carry Mulligan, Andy Serkis and Leslie Caron lace together their voice-over with the dancer, magnifying their choreographed communications, amplifying the already palpable emotion they draw out. The same cannot be said for Daniel Kaluuya, who drains much of the joviality or sincerity from the Ghost of Christmas Present, reducing two iconic scenes into minor slogs before the arrival of Christmas Yet to Come.
A foreboding presence, Morris’ film secures an iciness and inhuman presence. For though the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come has limited movement, they brand their mark on the screen. Often with the mere wave or gnarl of a hand, hypnotically convulsing Scrooge, Brekke Fagerlund Karl embodies the dread of a future with no prospects, while also carrying Bob Cratchett with a light, nervousness to compliment Martin Freeman’s weary working fatherly voiceover.
There’s no better time to lose oneself in the majesty of dance, draped in the garb of a theatre with the accessibility and intimacy of close-up cinema. Whatever fumbles A Christmas Carol takes on the coattails of proficiency, it is nevertheless an amalgam of the various artistic triumphs and a reminder of the value they pose, not only individually, but as a juggernaut of our history.