2. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
This is a lot more faithful a Dickens adaption than you might think. About the most egregious addition is giving Scrooge’s old dead partner Marley a brother (called Robert, as in Bob, get it?) so you could put Statler and Waldorf in the movie.
This, surprisingly is one of the few film adaptations to feature one of Dickens’ best lines, when Scrooge (Michael Caine) is trying to rationalise the apparitions in front of him and blaming what he ate: “There’s more gravy than of grave about you”.
Half the characters may be Muppets, including Gonzo playing the story’s omniscient narrator Charles Dickens, but it still captures the spirit, and impressively, the power of the original story.
It all works primarily because the Muppets are always so earnest, and because Michael Caine plays Scrooge completely straight, unmoved by the Muppetty chaos around him. His reaction to seeing the Christmas where he truly lost the love of his life Belle (Meredith Braun) is always heartbreaking.
This is the far stronger musical film on this list due to the sheer catchiness of legendary Paul Williams’ music and lyrics. “Scrooge”, “One More Sleep ’til Christmas” and “It Feels Like Christmas” among others demand to be Karaoked along to and just can’t help but get lodged in your head for weeks every time you revisit this film (and if you’re a Millennial it’ll be annually).
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1. Scrooge / A Christmas Carol (1951)
Scrooge / A Christmas Carol is perhaps the most prominent, and certainly the most critically acclaimed British adaptation of Charles Dickens’ story, directed by Brian Desmond Hurst and starring beloved character actor Alastair Sim as an iconic Scrooge.
Sim’s Scrooge certainly has the most layers and nuance, switching from wry, malicious amusement at the suffering of those he looks down on (rarely does the performer of this role appear to be facing so much fun) to pained anguish and fragility in the blink of an eye.
This is a very classically good-looking film and every scene added to the usual arrangement of plot points, particularly in the Christmas Past passage, contributes something to our understanding of Scrooge, not a monster but a complicated man with a mountain of issues who is “changed by the harshness of the world”.
The visuals and especially the sound design goes full horror film at times, a surprisingly rare but effective decision in such a well-known ghost story.
It’s hard to argue that this isn’t the definitive version of A Christmas Carol on film, combining great performances, atmosphere and a well-judged combination of darkness and humour to bring Charles Dickens’ timeless story to life.
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Which adaptation of Charles Dickens’ famous tale is the best put to film in your opinion? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to follow @thefilmagazine on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more lists like this.
Updated 10th December 2022 to include Spirited and Scrooge: A Christmas Carol. Originally published 21st December 2021.