You need to feel more Christmassy, right? So join Caitlin Watson as she assembles the perfect film version of Scrooge’s story.
Santa gets enough letters; this year I’m writing to Scrooge. There are at least five films of A Christmas Carol that I watch every year, and if a new one comes out, imma have to check that out too. So this year, I decided to finally compile the ultimate cast for Scrooge’s story. To do this, I’m going to go through the characters one-by-one and tell you about my favourite depictions of each one.
Full disclosure – my absolute favourite version is Scrooge, the musical from 1970, and I don’t care what you think about that (unless you agree, in which case – High Five!). However, choosing just one Scrooge is too difficult for me. I love Albert Finney and the weird way he holds himself in an attempt to play an old man. Alastair Sim is undeniably great, and I really enjoy Michael Caine’s version with the Muppets – kudos for almost making me forget he’s one of the few humans on screen.
For how precious the musical is to me, Fred is just WRONG. Too old and too middle class, his kindness comes across as disingenuous. I half want to swap Cratchit and Fred over in the musical. But then, I really don’t like the actor who plays Fred at all. Dominic West in the Patrick Stewart version seems a lot more like the Fred I imagine – an earnest and genuinely good guy despite his uncle being despicable to him his whole life.
I could write sonnets to Mr Topper. He’s hardly in the book, and I imagine the Alastair Sim version gets it closest – a rather awkward man who finds it difficult to approach the laydees… but I adore the super-sleazy nephew of Patrick Stewart’s Scrooge, singing a song about being too shy to pass a dress shop when he’s actually a total playa. Honourable mention to Gordon Jackson in the musical Scrooge, for trying to steal the Fred’s party scene with some glorious over-acting of enjoying the game of The Minister’s Cat. If you do watch it, please pay attention to his movements and hand clapping as he exclaims “The Minister’s cat is an Orange cat!”. Cracks me up every year.
(An aside – I tried to hunt down the Shy song on youtube to post a link to it, but instead found this:
… almost as good, I’d say).
Scrooge’s Love interest
Again, I’m going to have to go with Isobel from the musical. I know there’s no back-story in the book, but I have no shame in enjoying every minute of her twee song “Happiness”, even though it breaks with tradition and shows us a season that isn’t winter. I get emotional every time I watch it for what he allowed himself to lose. Also, respect to your permanently raised Mary Quant plucked eyebrow.
Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim
The musical version certainly looks the part for me, but (as is necessary for a musical, I suppose), he’s far too chipper for a man who’s been shat upon by his employer forever. There’s a number of times in the Cratchit house where I imagine the kids and his wife getting really fed up and tersely saying “WE GET IT DAD, WE’RE POOR BUT HAPPY” when he’s going on about visiting the Lord Mayor and all those jolly working class larks. For this reason, it’s got to be Richard E Grant’s more muted, downtrodden Bob, who works for Patrick Stewart’s Scrooge (his wife in this version is good too).
A lot of the versions of Tiny Tim are too pathetic for my liking (if they are going to die, then they better do so… blah blah blah), so I choose the boy from Scrooged, who has some issues, people are worried about him, but he doesn’t come straight from Sylvia Young Stage School (not-so-surreptitiously points a crutch square at blond Tim from the musical, with his clasped hands and overly emphatic delivery of his song. Definitely his father’s son).
Special mention to Miss Piggy’s Emily Cratchit, and one of my favourite lines from the The Muppet Christmas Carol, when someone comments that the dinner smells good: “It DOES, doesn’t it *Muppet face scrunch*”
It simply has to be Alec Guinness. I love everything about this Marley. So otherworldly, he seems drunk (maybe he was). His weird underwater walking, the way he sits in the chair that isn’t there. His shrieking indignation at the suggestion that he’s a figment brought on by indigestion. The whole scene is a joy. The cherry on the cake is his wee wave goodbye out the closing door. As a child I used to find it funny when he seemed to forget that the third ghost would come when the bell… tolls… three, but now I think he’s being called back to the ghost realm, because his time is up. His gleeful greeting of Scrooge later on is also spot on. Magnificent.
If we’re talking matching the book though, the Alastair Sim cartoon version seems a good fit; suitably wail-y and mournful, complete with woe-ridden removable jaw bandage action.
And Disney – FORSHAME. Goofy??? Even as a child I remember being irritated by him slipping on the cane. Waldorf and Statler do a much better job in the Muppets.
Some of these seem hard to get right. I believe the book describes the Past as looking old yet young at the same time, and like a candle flame, so only the Alastair Sim cartoon captures this for me. I’ve always found the lady from the musical’s delivery really irritating (especially when she goes on about Fezziwig’s party only costing “a few pounds of your mortal money”), so as an alternative I offer the taxi driver from Scrooged, who looks like a cross between Benicio De Torro and Ron Pearlman. I reckon this ghost needs to have little sympathy for Scrooge (they are what they are; do not blame me), but they don’t need to have such badly applied eyeliner. I mean it must be a good 5mm away from the edge of her eye! Just another reason I dislike the musical version so much.
Present fairly consistently meets my expectations, and in lieu of Brian Blessed, Kenneth Moore (musical) does a fine job of booming out demands of compassion from Scrooge with more than a hint of contempt. Albert Finney’s acting drunk on the milk of human kindness has amused me since I was about five.
The Future seems to be incredibly difficult to get right. Abysmal attempt by the Patrick Stewart version (the hood is so big and the eyes so far back it looks as though it was rejected by the Muppets), I like the TV one from Scrooged, but as TVs aren’t invented in any other versions I watch, I’m just going to choose Big Bad Pete from Mickey’s Christmas Carol for this. The musical fairs ok in this respect, but I’ve never been that keen on the pallid human hand poking out, especially since it turns into a skeleton hand later. I think I’d rather the arm pointed, with the robe over it, so the first time you see the hand it’s skeletal.
Like the ghost of Christmas Present, these guys are rarely wrong. Sometimes I think perhaps I should spend the entire season childishly giggling at simple jokes and oafishly bellowing “MISTER WATSON!!” at my husband, in an attempt to fully capture the Christmas spirit. Maybe we could learn a few things from these guys – they never seem sad.
Miscellaneous – stocking fillers
I like the way the Patrick Stewart Scrooge covers bits that most miss out, such as the painted tiles moving, and going round the people on ships, down mines and up lighthouses celebrating Christmas present.
The boy who gets the turkey for Scrooge once he’s seen the light (spoiler alert, love wins) isn’t generally very memorable, but I like the Alastair Sim one, who delivers an excellent disbelieving cockney “WALKER!!” at being asked to buy the prize turkey.
Shout-out to this line from one of the first songs from the musical, “Father Christmas”:
People are despicable creatures, loathsome inexplicable creatures, good for nothing pickable (?) (confession: I haven’t watched this for a year) creatures, I HATE PEOPLE. I detest them. I deplore them!
Sometimes when shopping in town close to Christmas, I can definitely relate to this sentiment. How uncharitable of me.
Things that grate – I see what Patrick Stewart is going for with his trying to laugh for the first time in years… but I just find it cringeworthy. Disney ham it up too much with the Cratchits sitting down to a roast sparrow, carving up one pea between them. I don’t care if they are mice, this is too meagre. Actually, if they are meant to be mouse-sized, what type of bird did they actually roast? Monsters. The musical represents this much better with Bob scraping around for bargains to provide for his family and being donated an extra present as he can’t afford more.
And finally, one last stocking filler and my present to you. Here is a handy, cut out and keep (or, at least downloadable) table showing my fantasy Christmas Carol cast:
Some have scoffed at how many I watch, but they all have elements I love. Whatever version(s) you watch this year, I hope you enjoy a Christmas Carol as much as I do.
God bless us, every one.