A Christmas Carol: the best and worst adaptations

Odd List Robert Keeling 20 Dec 2012 - 06:49

We delve back into more than a century of A Christmas Carol movies to find the best and worst adaptations of Dickens' festive tale...

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the classic story of a time travelling pensioner who sees dead people, is a festive fairytale which has itself become part of Christmas folklore.  In terms of favourite Christmas tales, Rudolph and Frosty may wrap up the children's vote, but for most people, it's Dickens’ seminal work which would get the nod.

The story was written by Dickens in order to tackle the relatively new issue of urban poverty, and in particular the growing underclass of impoverished townsfolk produced by the Industrial Revolution. With the rapid shift away from conventional farming and trade practices, and with the rise in new technological advancements, many people were suddenly without work and without the necessary skills to find a job.

The British government's answer to this escalating crisis was the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. Amongst other things, this law saw the establishment of brutal workhouses and treadmills that turned huge swathes of the urban poor into de-facto slaves. As a result, many were trapped in a cycle of poverty which led them into the ghastly and degrading conditions of the poor houses, where they would live a miserable existence, rarely ever earning enough to lift themselves out of their predicament.

Dickens himself had first-hand experiences of the ruthless attitude towards the poor which was prevalent in Britain in this period. In the 1820s, his father was sent to a debtor's prison for outstanding arrears which he simply couldn't pay. As a result, 12-year-old Charles was forced to board with a family friend and leave school to begin working ten hour days in a shoe-blacking factory. Being from a relatively middle class background, Dickens struggled to fit in amongst the rest of his work colleagues and he had a fairly miserable time of it during this period. His experiences working in the cruel and backbreaking conditions of the factory, as well as the harsh treatment meted out to his father, had a profound effect on young Charles, and a great impact on his later literary work.

It was these experiences which led Dickens to write A Christmas Carol. The story centres upon the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge, a heartless man of business who thrives of the despair of others. Scrooge offers no pity towards the poor, and his heartless tirade at the portly gentlemen who come collecting for the poor on Christmas Eve ("If they would rather die... they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population") sticks out as the most damming indictment of his character.

Of course, by the story's end, Scrooge is a changed man, who embraces the spirit of Christmas and becomes a second father to the children of his employee Bob Cratchit.

Scrooge's new found love of Christmas highlights the second most crucial point of A Christmas Carol. Dickens' wrote the tale at a time when forgotten Christmas traditions were experiencing a resurgence in popularity in Victorian England. Prince Albert introduced the Christmas tree in 1841, the first Christmas cards were sent in 1843 and the Great Escape was screened on Christmas Day for the first time in 1840. All of these traditions were gradually being re-introduced into society as the celebration of Christmas became not just a religious festival, but also a time of charity and family gatherings.

It is the darkness, death and despair brought on by urban poverty, and the joy and happiness generated by good will at Christmas that provides the two contrasting themes of Dickens' work.

It's fair to argue then, that any A Christmas Carol film worth its salt must convey the warmth and frivolity of Christmas time, through key scenes such as Scrooge's introduction to Christmas morning by the ghost of Christmas present and the Cratchit family Christmas dinner. It must likewise demonstrate the gloom and misery of scenes such as the Ghost of Christmas Present unveiling the allegorical twin children of 'ignorance' and 'want' to Scrooge and the Cratchits grieving for the late Tiny Tim (spoiler alert).

Arguably, however, despite its deserved place in the pantheon of British literary classics, there has yet to be a truly great cinematic adaption of Dickens' work. For many of us, the only version that sticks in the mind may well be of the Muppet based variety, or perhaps the 1951 Alastair Sim film, arguably the closest we have had yet to a 'classic' version of the story. Yet many different adaptations exist, many of them unknown, and most likely unseen, by the general public.

I thought it was about time, therefore, that somebody stepped up and took on the task of wading through the assorted versions of A Christmas Carol so that at this festive season, we can truly know which offerings are worth seeking out.

And so, with  this in mind, we must begin our Dickensian odyssey and examine which of the numerous adaptations best serves the author's original vision, which offers the best in entertainment, and most crucially, which has the most annoying Tiny Tim. It turns out that this last category was easily the most competitive.

A Christmas Carol (1910)

The earliest version of A Christmas Carol I managed to track down was this 1910 short film directed by J Searle Dawley for none other than Thomas Edison’s film production company. Despite lasting only a little over 13 minutes, and with the medium of film itself only in its infancy, the director makes a pretty decent go of including the important points of Dickens’ story, and even does an effective job of showing the various ghosts on screen. It’s only perhaps worth seeing out of curiosity, but it’s available for free on YouTube and is well worth a watch, if only for a valuable lesson in cramming a whole lot of story into a very short space of time.

Scrooge (1913)

Perhaps the best known silent version of A Christmas Carol is this 1913 release, which was also known as Old Scrooge in the US. Scrooge is played by Seymour Hicks as a wide-eyed and angry old scruff. The actor regularly played Scrooge onstage and would go on to reprise the role in the 1935 sound version.  The main distinguishing characteristic of this adaptation is that it dispenses with the three Ghosts of past, present and future and instead has Marley stand in for all three.

For a film made prior to the First World War, the effects used to create Marley’s ghostly appearance and the visions he presents to Scrooge are quite effective. The whole film is made all the eerier thanks to some very well selected backing music which accentuates the haunting moments perfectly.

A Christmas Carol (1923)

This third silent offering is even shorter than Old Scrooge and so omits an even greater chunk of the original story. Russell Thorndike is suitably grumpy in the lead role, and all the ghosts are shown on screen, but of the three silent versions, this was not only the least enjoyable, but also suffered due to the fact that it was the worst preserved print of the three. It feels a little churlish to criticise a film from 90 years ago for looking a bit fuzzy, though, so maybe we can let that slide.

Scrooge (1935)

The first version of A Christmas Carol in sound but other than as curiosity piece, there’s not much other reason for you to watch this one. It’s a dull and drab affair which for some unknown reason doesn’t show any of the ghosts other than the Ghost of Christmas Present. The decision to not show the apparition of Marley and instead have Ebenezer talking to an empty chair like a Victorian Clint Eastwood is frankly ridiculous, as the film loses its ghostly element somewhat if the spirits are never even shown.

A lack of effects expertise seems an unlikely reason for this, given that earlier silent films had managed to include ghosts to a pretty decent standard. One can only assume, therefore, that it is a foolhardy artistic decision.  Speaking of which, omitting such crucial plot points as young Scrooge’s Christmas reunion with his beloved sister Fan is questionable, but leaving out Fezziwig altogether is frankly unforgiveable.

There are three distinct takes on the Scrooge character which actors and directors have opted for over the years. There’s the thin, spindly and decrepit old miser, the brash and pompous old blowhard and then the route which Seymour Hicks (he of the 1913 silent version fame) takes here, which is the Mr Trebus, scruffy old git angle. He bears an uncanny resemblance in fact to Jim Trott from The Vicar Of Dibley. Overall a forgettable offering, which lacks either the darkness or joviality found in Dickens’ tale.

A Christmas Carol (1938)

Noticeably made in Hollywood’s Golden Era, this MGM adaptation is a charming if slightly sanitized version of Dickens’ tale. Reginald Owen is a fairly bland and unmemorable Scrooge, edging more towards the pompous blowhard side of the character, but the actor never really convinces as an elderly man and there is some fairly visible age make-up on show throughout. It’s also noticeable that the supporting cast are all distinctly well groomed and handsome given the majority of them are meant to be destitute.

There are no phantoms at Scrooge’s window, no flashback to Scrooge’s doomed romance and certainly no ghastly depictions of starving children. The filmmakers clearly wanted to ensure that this was seen as a ‘family film’ and even played up the romance between Scrooge’s nephew Fred and his fiancé Bess (they are married in the book) to give the suggestion it was more central to the story than Dickens ever intended.

This version also has the first in a long line of nauseating Tiny Tims. Now I know the child actor concerned is very young, and it’s perhaps unfair to judge him too harshly, but on top of his iffy acting skills, he’s also so overly cheery that I almost started losing all sympathy for him. Maybe that says more about me than him, though.  Nevertheless, despite my grumblings, compared to some of the adaptations which followed it, this is a slick, old-fashioned movie, and one which captures the warmth and of Dickens’ story fairly well. It may not win prizes for its dynamism, but aided by a strong cast and wonderfully fuzzy soft lighting, it warms the cockles regardless.

A Christmas Carol (1949)

A TV special narrated by Vincent Price with sets seemingly borrowed from a local school Christmas play and a cast with decidedly American accents. Needless to say, this isn’t the best adaptation of A Christmas Carol you may come across. It’s hammy to the extreme, and one might generously say it skims through the Dickens’ story. Scrooge weakens and repents his past sins extremely quickly and once the novelty of having Vincent Price read to you wears off, there’s really nothing going for it at all. Tellingly, my notes for this version ended with the phrase ‘a really piss poor go’. I thought about putting that into more erudite and critical language, but came to realise it already summed up the situation perfectly.

Scrooge (1951)

This is arguably the movie version of A Christmas Carol to which all others are compared. Alastair Sim is absolutely superb as Scrooge, constantly disgruntled with the world; he is a mean and uncaring old man, but with a visible inner pain which few other Scrooges convey.  It plays pretty free and loose with the source material in parts, with some areas such as Scrooge’s ascent to owning his own business and his career with Fezziwig noticeably fleshed out.

This movie also suggests that a cause of Scrooge’s resentment of his nephew is that his beloved sister Fan died in childbirth. This echoed Scrooge’s father’s anger at him over his own mother’s similar death. Dickens was surprisingly vague about both of these facts, and it seems to vary from film to film. It seems unlikely that Dickens intended for Scrooge’s mother to die in childbirth with him, as his sister Fan is described as being younger than Ebenezer. However, there is a genuine train of thought on the internet that this is actually an error on Dickens’ part, and he did in fact intend for the ‘death in childbirth’ angle to be taken. I don’t buy that myself, though. The issue of Fan dying while giving birth to Fred is also never directly referenced by Dickens, but it crops up in several of the film adaptations.

Sim’s Scrooge visibly alters as the film goes on, the actor perfectly capturing the old miser’s changing mentality. As well as Sim, Michael Hordern is brilliantly OTT as the moaning and groaning tortured spirit of Jacob Marley. It’s a well acted and memorable version, which captures the darkness of the story well in scenes like the wailing phantoms at Scrooge’s window, as well as the cheerfulness of the Cratchit family Christmas. Fully deserving of its place as a Christmas classic.

A Christmas Carol (1969)

This is one of several forgettable animated offerings I tracked down, and while it’s fairly unremarkable, it does have strangely effective gloomy atmosphere, with Marley’s ghost in particular an unsettling sight to behold. The only moment that really stood out from the rest of the film, however, was a random bit where Fred starts singing upon his arrival at Ebenezer’s counting house. There’s no other singing in the rest of the film, so I’m not sure if this was an aborted attempt at a musical number which they just never bothered to take out. It’s towards the top end of the animated spectrum, but it’s still a little bland and un-engaging.

Scrooge (1970)

An all-singing, all-dancing film starring Albert Finney in the titular role.  Finney’s Scrooge is very much in the wiry and frail mould, and he is suitably objectionable throughout, closely resembling a slightly better dressed Steptoe. As well as Finney, the cast also includes, Sir Alec Guinness who puts in a particularly over-the-top turn as Marley’s ghost. The other ghosts in this version are a bit strange, the ghost of Christmas Past is just some non-descript old dear and the ghost of Christmas present opts to get Scrooge pissed in order to make him more cheerful. Seems obvious now you think about it.

One major misstep, however, is a strange foray down into hell at the film’s end, which really doesn’t work at all, and seems comically out of place for a Dickensian movie.  The sight of some topless hooded demons, looking like extras from a Flash Gordon movie, dragging a chain around a screaming Scrooge, is frankly a bit much.  Admittedly, I only have a very limited knowledge of musicals and their merits, but it seems to me that the songs are all fairly average, though they are still annoyingly catchy (be warned).  The imaginatively titled I Hate People and I Love Life, as well as Thank You very Much, will be in your heads after viewing Scrooge, for better or for worse.

 The Cratchit family are all irritatingly chipper throughout, although credit must go to the filmmakers for actually having a family of cockneys playing the roles of this working class London family. I’m pretty sure they are the only ones to do so, thinking about it.

This film remains the only live-action version of A Christmas Carol to receive Academy Award nominations, which were for Best Score, Original Song, Art Direction and Costume Design.  Meanwhile, Finney himself actually won a Golden Globe for The Best Motion Picture Actor in a Musical/Comedy. I can only assume there was a distinct lack of quality original songs and scores that year, though Finney’s performance is perhaps far more deserving of praise. The actor, then only 34, is the film’s saving grace, with a memorable performance that elevates the film into the hallowed ‘just about average’ category.

A Christmas Carol (1971)

Not one that many of you will be familiar with, but this Oscar-winning short film is well worth seeking out should you be so inclined. It’s a surreal animation that has a unique visual style, with some imaginative camera tricks and haunting visuals. It’s extremely sombre throughout, and moments like the spirit of Jacob Marley’s jaw dropping and the Ghost of Christmas Present revealing the ghastly embodiments of ‘want’ and ‘ignorance’ are especially disturbing.  The first ghost is particularly trippy, as it swiftly zooms Scrooge from past memory to past memory.  There is also a particularly malevolent and mean Scrooge voiced by Alastair Sim, reprising the role he made his own in the 1951 screen version.

A Christmas Carol (1977)

A run-of-the-mill BBC production made for TV back in the late 70s. The extremely basic and sparse sets don’t really help to create much of a sense of place, and overall it’s a fairly dreary old affair. It’s saved from being a complete write-off, though, by a wonderful central performance by Sir Michael Hordern as a blustering old Scrooge and John Le Mesurier as a suitably creepy Marley. There was also some notable faces popping up in minor roles including Dot Cotton - sorry, June Brown - as Scrooge’s housekeeper Mrs Dilber, and Christopher Biggins as Fred’s pal Topper. It’s pretty drab throughout, which helps the darker elements of the story, but there is a dire need for some warmth and Christmas spirit to be injected into the proceedings.

A Christmas Carol (1982)

Truth be told, I actually watched this version by accident. I was expecting another animated version to arrive from a certain online film rental company, and they sent this one in error. “Not to worry,” I thought. “Let’s give this one a go instead.” Oh dear. My mistake. It’s a made-for-TV Australian offering, and it is easily the worst animated version of A Christmas Carol I've watched. It leaves huge swathes of the story out, has absolutely zero charm, and somehow looks more dated than the one from 1969. I genuinely believe that if four or five of us got together for a long weekend, we could knock up a better looking animated movie.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Growing up, this was the first Christmas Carol adaptation I ever saw, and so I’ll always have a certain amount of sentimental bias towards it. It’s not the finest example of Disney animation ever, but it's still head and shoulders above the vast majority of other animated versions I’ve seen.  Obviously, with the story being Disneyfied somewhat, the darker edges have been largely trimmed off, although there is still something strangely unsettling about Black Pete as the gargantuan Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.

This film marked Mickey Mouse’s first appearance in cinemas for over 30 years, though his Bob Cratchitt is an extremely minor role, with Scrooge McDuck’s  Ebenezer Scrooge (it’s the part he was born to play) taking even greater prominence than normal. The emphasis here was definitely on making the story a fun tale for kids, but luckily, that doesn’t denigrate the film, which retains enough of Dickens’ original story to ensure it still works.  

The cast is like a who’s who of Disney favourites, with Goofy, Donald Duck and Jiminy Cricket all involved, as well as some more obscure characters like Lady Kluck from Robin Hood. It’s not exactly a faithful retelling - surprisingly, the issue of Scrooge’s mother and sister dying never comes up - but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable and warm festive offering nonetheless.

A Christmas Carol (1984)

George C Scott opts to go down the cantankerous old blowhard route for his Scrooge here, and it’s definitely a stand-out performance. We get a glimpse early on of Scrooge at the bank exchange ripping some fellow business men off over a deal involving some corn. Clearly this Scrooge isn’t just an old miser; he’s an unscrupulous bastard too.

The film is extremely loyal to the source text, and shows Scrooge’s shift from hate-filled old sinner to gleeful man of the people very effectively. There’s a great supporting cast, including Edward Woodward as the Ghost of Christmas Present, David Warner as Bob Cratchit and Roger ‘Lord John Marbury’ Rees as Fred. The moments of festive jollity at Fred’s house are nicely done, and contrast well with The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come scenes which are suitably gloomy.

The Ghost of Christmas Past does date the film somewhat, as she is quite possibly the most 80s ghost imaginable. At one stage I thought it might actually be Toyah. Unfortunately, it also contains another incredibly annoying Tiny Tim who, to make look sicker, they have clearly just put dark make-up round his eyes. It makes him look like a bit like a child zombie more than anything. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most comprehensive adaptations of Dickens’ work on offer, and is elevated considerably by Scott’s marvellous performance.

Scrooged (1988)

Okay, granted, this is technically not a direct adaptation of A Christmas Carol, rather a Bill Murray comedy which happens to follow a similar plot. However, the story of Francis Xavier Cross, the cruel and uncaring TV executive who mends his ways after being visited by three ghosts, is close enough in my book.

Murray is on peak form as the misanthropic ball of hate that is Frank Cross, and he's backed up by plenty of memorable supporting roles with special praise going to David Johansen, who is perfect as the cigar chomping Ghost of Christmas Past. All the ghostly visitations are really neatly worked in, with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come a particularly clever creation - its emergence from a bank of TV screens is especially effective. Events found in the book, such as Fezziwig’s Christmas Party and Scrooge’s harsh treatment of his beloved once he starts making his fortune, are neatly adapted from Dickens’ source material, and moulded to fit in with a modern day retelling.

Interesting fact for you trivia fans out there as well: all three of Bill Murray’s actor brothers have roles in the film, from Brian Doyle-Murray, to Joel Murray, to the little known and seldom seen John Murray. True story.

Scrooged is easily the finest Christmas comedy of all time, and deserves to be watched every year without fail. All together now: ”put a little love in your heart...”

Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (1988)

Technically I’m cheating again here, but Blackadder’s Christmas Carol is such a great parody of the classic A Christmas Carol story that I feel it warrants an inclusion. Working in reverse to the source material, Ebenezer Blackadder is a kind and generous man whose saintly nature is taken advantage of by all and sundry. When a ghostly visitor, played with great aplomb by a game Robbie Coltrane, regales Blackadder with tales from his ancestors' Christmas past, Ebenezer begins to realise that “it points to the very clear lesson that bad guys have all the fun!” Cue a Christmas morning revelation and Blackadder becoming as bigger swine as ever.

From the opening “Humbug! Humbug! Humbug, Mister Baldrick?” You know you’re in for a  treat, and lines as brilliant as “Baldrick, you wouldn't see a subtle plan if it painted itself purple and danced naked on top of a harpsichord, singing ‘Subtle plans are here again,’” make this a Christmas must-see every year.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

For many years, this was the only feature film version of A Christmas Carol I was aware of. Until the age of about 10, I didn’t realise Bob Cratchit wasn’t actually meant to be a frog. However, even after seeing the various other adaptations, the Muppets' vibrant take on the story is still up there with the best. Michael Caine is superb as a mean and moody Scrooge with a heart of stone. Gonzo and Rizzo the rat provide most of the laughs as our intrepid narrators, and the rest of the Muppet gang all take part, with even Sam the Eagle making a memorable cameo (“it is the American way!”).

The musical interludes are catchy (I will never tire of hearing “there goes mister humbug”) and despite huge chunks of the original story being left out, it’s a balanced and hugely entertaining take that deserves to be a festive TV staple.  It was an excellent choice to leave out the thoroughly depressing and out of place “love is gone” song by Belle in all releases since it first arrived on VHS, too.

A Christmas Carol (1994)

Another fairly ropey animation that suffers considerably from being rather badly synced.  The good people at Jetlag Productions can rest safe in the knowledge though that they are still nowhere near as bad as that god awful 1982 version. That really was the benchmark for bad animation. Anyway, here Bob Cratchit is unwisely rebranded as a bumbling fool and old Scrooge has for some reason become a squawking nutter.

The highlight of the whole piece comes when Marley beckons Scrooge over to the window and a troupe of pretty ghoulish phantoms swirl around moaning while a rather eerie song called ‘sleep no more’ plays in the background. It’s a strange artistic choice to break away at that moment for a musical number, but it was at least fairly atmospheric compared to the rest of the film.

A Christmas Carol (1997)

When Tim Curry looks back over his career, I doubt somehow that this charmless and bland animation will be up there with his finest moments. This version is peppered with some truly awful songs and the supposedly poignant moments between young Scrooge and Belle particularly sugary and cringe worthy. Despite it being a crucial moment in Scrooge’s turn to the dark side, if you pardon my mixed cinematic metaphors, I still feel that they should have followed the Muppets' lead and trimmed this bit down considerably.

Also, for no particular reason, Scrooge now has a dog. The dog performs no function. If anything it shows that Scrooge must care for something - after all, it’s clearly not undernourished.  Meanwhile, the spirits are all largely unmemorable, and The Ghost of Christmas Past is for some reason a bratty and annoying kid, which really doesn’t work at all. It’s another boring animation that you’d do well to avoid

A Christmas Carol (1999)

A very serious and sombre TV movie version here starring Jean-Luc Picard as Scrooge and McNulty from The Wire as his nephew Fred. Patrick Stewart plays his Scrooge as more of an arrogant and aloof businessman than anything else - much more fearsome than he is loathsome. The film is a steadfastly faithful adaptation, but it lacks any warmth, and while it does the darker stuff quite well, it doesn’t really exude Christmas spirit. It feels like we’re being lectured about Dickens’ story rather than being given an entertaining film.

Marley’s ghost is pretty creepy, and the three ghosts are on the whole nicely done, though the scenes involving Christmas Yet To Come don’t feel spooky enough at all. Richard E Grant is fine as the hard-done-by clerk Bob Cratchit, but his children are especially irritating, with Tiny Tim vying for the coveted ‘most irritating and poorly acted’ award with his fellow 1938 and 1984 Tiny Tims. The sets are impressive and the attention to detail can’t be faulted, but it just lacks any sense of fun.

A Christmas Carol: The Movie (2001)

A most ill-advised definitive declaration in the title of this one. It’s a relatively big-budget animation with a star-studded cast including Simon Callow as Scrooge, Kate Winslet as Belle, Nicholas Cage(!) as Marley and Michael Gambon as Ghost of Christmas Present. However, it is not only incredibly boring to look at, but also takes extremely unnecessary liberties with Dickens’ original story. For some unknown reason, a major subplot is introduced which sees Belle, once spurned by Scrooge as a young man, now running a Children’s hospital which faces closure on Christmas Eve. Scrooge meanwhile sends out Old Joe to evict a load of tenants and cart them off to a debtor’s prison, presumably just to make sure you definitely knew he was a wrong ‘un in case that point wasn’t already crystal clear.

Even more strangely, there is for some reason a couple of mice involved who are beloved by the kids at the hospital and who follow Scrooge around on his adventures, trying to nudge him towards reading a letter written by Belle pleading for leniency. I have no idea why they felt adding all this in was worthwhile. I can only assume that the plan was to beef up Belle’s role so as to play up Winslet’s involvement, but from a Dickens purist’s point of view, it all seems utterly pointless.

Ignoring pedantry for a moment, though, and it’s still dull as dishwater and utterly joyless throughout. For the relatively big budget spent on it, the animation is poor and the changes to the story add nothing at all.

Seriously though, why the mice? Who has ever read A Christmas Carol and thought, I know what this bad boy is missing, a couple of miming mice scampering around and trying to make Scrooge read a letter?

A Christmas Carol: The Musical (2004)

I hadn’t seen this Kelsey Grammer starring version before starting this article. I’d always been put off by the customary terrible review it always received in the Christmas Radio Times. However, I went in with an open mind and full of hope nonetheless. Unfortunately, it really is quite terrible. It’s all very shiny and polished, not really befitting 19th century London at all, and the various songs do little but detract from the plot. It’s in the Sweeney Todd mould of every line being sung, even if it isn’t seemingly part of a song, and after a while it just gets grating. The songs are all lifted from a stage musical, and the transition to film is not a wise one.

Grammer gives it a good go, and throws himself into the musical numbers admirably, but you’re always very aware you are watching Frasier playing Ebenezer Scrooge. He just looks like a slightly scragglier version of himself and never really immerses himself into the role. Jane Krakowski also stars, but to me it’s now impossible to watch her without thinking of Jenna in 30 Rock. She plays a street urchin at the outset (really) and also the ghost of Christmas Past, and for a moment, it got so overly tacky that I thought it was actually a 30 Rock style Jackie Jormp-Jomp spoof musical. Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame plays Marley and appears to be pitched as midway between Beetlejuice and The Penguin, to terrible effect. The wailing phantoms that he introduces to Scrooge aren’t scary at all either; it just looks like the local am-dram society in bright white make up. Horrible cheesy and unaware quite how ridiculous it really is, this is most definitely one to avoid.

A Christmas Carol (2009)

This slick motion-capture animation courtesy of Robert Zemeckis was released in 3D to much fanfare. The opening bravura swoop over a beautifully rendered old London town was a terrific showcase for this new technology, but by about the fourth time the frenetic swooping action is used, it gets a little infuriating.  On the whole, though, the animation is pretty darn good with a great deal attention to detail going into creating a beautifully rendered Dickensian London at Christmas time.

Carey plays his Scrooge as a spindly and decrepit old miser,  and he does a sound job of showing Scrooge’s gradual thawing as the ghosts go to work. The film itself is fairly loyal to the original text, and key haunting moments from the book are used well. Jacob Marley’s ghost is a fiendish spectre, and the moment he unties his neckerchief to allow his jaw to dislocate and drop before Ebenezer’s eyes is especially grim for a family Christmas film. Scrooge’s encounter with the final ghost is a bit tedious, as it soon becomes an elaborate chase scene purely designed to show off the 3D, but on the whole, it’s an enjoyable and memorable version.

The bottom five:

1. A Christmas Carol (1982)

2. A Christmas Carol (1949)

3. A Christmas Carol: The Musical (2004)                              

4. A Christmas Carol: The Movie (2001)

5. A Christmas Carol (1997)

The top five:

1. Scrooge (1951)

2. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

3. Scrooged (1988)/Blackadder (1988)

4. A Christmas Carol (1971)

5. A Christmas Carol (1984)

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Is that 'The lovely Debbie McGee' with Kelsy Grammer or am I going nuts?

This is amazing! Beautifully written, comprehensive and I agree with all of them. Very detailed. Perfect!

I always watch Scrooged at Christmas and also the Jean Luc Picard version, recently. But there's also the Ross Kemp update, where he plays a loan shark on a London council estate and suffers a familiar Christmas miracle. I find it strangely enjoyable, but it really is a very dark and claustrophobic version of the story which I watch every time that it appears on the schedules.

'Scrooged is easily the finest Christmas comedy of all time, and deserves to be watched every year without fail. All together now: ”put a little love in your heart...”' I wholeheartedly agree, sir. I watch Scrooged on Dec 24th, every year for at least the past 7 years, just before going to sleep. A tradition I will continue for as long as possible. Muppets I try and squeeze in somewhere, too. I do think the 2009 CGI one is pretty creepy looking though, possibly too much in the uncanny valley for me.

That is one Jenna Maroney.

Ah, you've missed the definitive Mr. Magoo version, no doubt due to your youth.

Nice extensive research here. I remember coming downstairs at late morning to watch Mickey's Christmas Carol on Disney Channel. Scrooge (1951) looks far better in b/w and Alastair Sims is the definite killjoy of Christmas. (In a delightful way)

Scrooged and the Muppets Christmas Carol are my all-time favorites. I remember watching Scrooged at the movies back then and having a blast.

Sure are a lot of versions out there. Had never heard of about half of them. Made for some interesting reading and I agree with your ranking and comments regarding the ones I have seen.

I think the 1971 version is the one I remember from my childhood. It used to be a regular fixture on Christmas TV in the early '70s.

There's also American Carol, but that's so terrible it would have to occupy all 5 spots on the worst list.

"[T]he Great Escape was screened on Christmas Day for the first time in 1840." Say what?

"Scrooged is easily the finest Christmas comedy of all time". It's good, but I don't think it's THAT good!

I had the same thought, briefly!

That there was an attempt at humour my friend.

..."Sir Alec Guinness who puts in a particularly over-the-top turn as Marley’s ghost."

"When the bells tolls.........THREE."

Finney's is the one I saw (several times) as a kid, so the one I have the most draw towards.

The 84 version rules them all.

You forgot "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol!"

No Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol?

Another Star Trek captain plays the Ghost of Christmas Present in "A Carol Christmas" (2003). Tori Spelling plays the Scrooge role, and Gary Coleman (!) plays the Ghost of Christmas Past. It's terrible, and you should watch it.

It would appear the glaring one I missed was Mr Magoo. Apologies. I saw it was on the big list on a well known internet encyclopaedia that I used and I thought, "I'll skip that and The Flintstone's Christmas Carol.....nobody will notice". Turns out I was wrong.

I did watch Bug Bunny's Christmas Carol though. Should have included that really, though I think it's fair to say that Bugs' version was not exactly in keeping with Dickens' original story.

I also missed that one which Snoop Dogg did with Beckham. Or did I imagine that?

"It was an excellent choice to leave out the thoroughly depressing and
out of place “love is gone” song by Belle in all releases since it first
arrived on VHS, too."

That's something I definitely disagree with. For one, the cut makes the scene too short and awkward. It is supposed to be a sad scene, and the song is necessary. Otherwise, as I said, the scene goes by too fast and it's not as believable. And we don't care for them as characters as much because are not able to experience their emotions.

And yes it's depressing. What's wrong with that? It's supposed to be. If you are thinking about it being too depressing for children, children are exposed to all sorts of depressing material in entertainment. And I like the fact the crew decided to treat child audiences with respect by making this scene. The deletion goes against all of that.

Absolutely. Great vocal cast (Jim Backus, Jack Cassidy, June Foray, Paul Frees), guest appearance by another UPA "star," Gerald McBoing Boing as Tiny Tim, and a score by the team that wrote "Funny Girl" (Barbra Streisand's mega-hit "People" was allegedly first intended to be used in the Magoo cartoon.

The Albert Finney musical is far better than your article suggests. Finney is superb. 2nd only to Simm. The section when he goes back to the point he turns his back on his relationship with belle is articulately well done.

Agree with this, as does pretty much everyone I know. With the fair-enough decision to remove the more depressing story elements, this was the only scene that truly presented reason to Scrooge's hatred of Christmas - it was a wonderful song too, and feels very out-of-place to have it missing.

The scene worked because it was arguably the most emotionally adult of the film, and is followed by the joyous entrance of the Ghost of Christmas Present... really highlighting the joys of Christmas, and showing Michael Caine's ability to convincingly switch from lonely old miser to joy-filled, happy man.
On top of that, the song in question is called 'When love is gone' whilst the film closes with 'The love we found'.... it added to the films closure and Scrooge's development as a character.

From what I've heard, the song has been returned to the film for the cinematic re-release. I certainly hope so, and hope that a new DVD comes with it next year.

Absolutely. I was about to praise this article for such thoroughness and great analysis (with the exception of praise for the '71 film- which is awful) but then I got to that sentence about the cut song in the muppets and seethed.

It's depressing because IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE. It's a wonderfully sad moment and completely sells the emotion of the story. Michael Caine is superb throughout that scene. And to add to that, the song is "reprised" at the end of the film!

To cut straight to Gonzo and a crying Rizzo is completely wrong. No other adaptation is as heart-breaking in its depiction of Belle and Ebenezer's break-up.

You don't like it? Fast-forward through the 2 minutes. But the least Disney could do is give people the option of either watching or skipping. Cutting it (against the directors' wishes) is awful. It needs to be back in the film.

I don't think it has been restored for the cinematic rerelease - and it certainly isn't in the Region A Blu-ray released last month.

Admittedly I always choke up a bit at the end of Scrooged.

Never watched it, so I can't say how bad it was but Henry Winkler starred in " An American Christmas Carol".

Was hoping for your thoughts on An American Christmas Carol with Henry Winkler.
If it helps, when the Albert Finney version airs on TV, one of the most commonly 'edited for television' scenes IS that descent into hell. They usually cut from Scrooge falling into the grave to where he wakes up in bed.

If you're including adaptations even looser than Scrooged, I'd throw my hat in the ring for the Michael Gambon starring (and it wouldn't be den of geek if someone didn't bring it up) Doctor Who x-mas special from two years back.

It completely bypassed my cynicism and made me feel more Christmassy than I had in years. The use of time travel so Gambon was his own ghost of Christmass' past, future and present was a brilliant Whovian twist. It may not be faithful or fit the criteria for this list, but, honorable mention?

My favourite version is 'A Christmas Carol'.

I'm glad to see these comments here, as I feel the same way, as does the rest of my family and anyone else I've spoken to who is familiar with the scene. Without the song the entire scene falls flat.

On the DVD I have, there is a choice to watch the wide-screen or "full-screen" version. We always choose wide-screen, but "When Love is Gone" is only included in the "full-screen" version. When we get to that scene (every year) we stop, switch to the "full-screen" version to watch the song, then go back to wide-screen.

Apart from this one issue, I think this is a fine overall review. I enjoy the Patrick Stewart one more than the reviewer did, and have a lot more patience with the various Tiny Tims, but I appreciate the detailed analysis of the various versions, many of which I've seen, and some which I now would like to.

Ross Kemp pretty much nailed the emotional complexities of Scrooge's character in 2000's made-for-(i)tv(4) movie 'A Christmas Carol'. In this seminal version, Kemp plays Eddie Scrooge, an unscrupulous loan-shark operating on a dodgy estate. If the world is to end tomorrow, I only hope a copy of this survives so that any future life on this planet can see for themselves the heights we scaled as a species.

The bit where the Tiny Tim character finally speaks the line "God bless us, everyone"?

You forgot to mention the adaptation where a grumpy scotsman gives a north eastern sporting club £35million for a lame donkey. It's called "An Andy Carroll".

That's a football joke so I don't expect any of you gimps on here to get it.

A valiant attempt at sarcasm but rather unfunny.

Great article and very nice that it goes through all these adaptation before giving the list of best and worst instead of jjust the usual list.

Not an adaptation, but worth mentioning: fromthe 80's "Ghostbusters" cartoon, episode "Xmas Marks the Spot" was really great, with the team ending up in Victorian times and accidentally capturing the three ghosts of Chistmas to save Scrooge, and then having to pretend to be them to frighten Scrooge while trying to free the captured ones.

FWIW, the Muppets’ “Here’s Jacob Marley and his brother Robert” ranks as one of my favourite jokes of all time.

The 1971 animated version is the one that sticks in my mind, it seemed (to the younger me at least) that it was on every Christmas during the 70's and early 80's (along with the animated version of the Selfish Giant).
Though film wise, Alastair Sims 1951 version is pretty tough to beat.

I believe humour is subjective, whereas no one can argue that you are a dogzcock. thanks for the feedback though.

Catherine Tate's "Nan's Christmas Carol" I mean David Tennant in tight black jeans doing a spot on Russell Brand impression?

It may be large part due to watching it at a young age, but I LOVE the 1982 version, and got so excited earlier this year when I finally came across a copy at a thrift store (OK, that should send a message). I'll admit the animation is not very fluid, but I love the character design, I thought most of the key characters were beautifully voiced, and I don't know where you saw so many omissions from the source, because I believe it touches on more key scenes than 1951. Marley stands out a lot with his dark eyes, and gutteral voice, and it seems like Christmas past, here, is the first ever to match the book's description, that the face "did not have a wrinkle in it."

1984 is my all time favorite. What stands out the most is Christmas present. Woodward garnered much kudos for his shifting from jolly to intense in the blink of an eye, and he proves the usefulness of that key attribute here. First he's encourages Scrooge to crack a smile, then toward end becomes just as intimidating (if not moreso) than Christmas yet to come, whose depiction also comes out in spades. One other thing I see where 1984 comes out ontop, and counter to your critique, is that here Tim is the most convincingly 'frail' and also sweet. I'm OK with dark circles as long as they look natural. Then there's Frank Finlay awe-inspiring Marley, who plays it no-nonsense. I don't let a Christmas go by without watching 1951, for Sim's charm, and Mordern's imprint on Marley, but 1984 gets the biggest priority.

You missed the Western/Cowboy Adaptation made with Jack Palance as Scrooge. A variation on a theme worth watching at least once for the novel twist to the story!

Didnt realise there was so many versions of A Christmas Carol time to put it to rest

You missed "Ebeneezer" with Jack Palance as Scrooge. A made for TV movie out on VHS, IMDB describes it as, "A Wild West retelling of Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol," with Scrooge as a land baron, gunfighter, and card cheat who is visited by three spirits who attempt to teach him the true meaning of Christmas." It's worth a watch just for novelty's sake!!!

"Prince Albert introduced the Christmas tree in 1841, the first Christmas cards were sent in 1843 and the Great Escape was screened on Christmas Day for the first time in 1840."

Nearly slipped that one passed us, you sneaky bugger :)

Perfectly written. I have the top three on DVD and they always ge watched.

That song should absolutely be back in the movie and everyone I know agrees. Especially as the song makes a brief appearance at the end.

How in the Dickens could you have missed "Mr. Magoo's
Christmas Carol," the BEST adaptation of "Carol" to one hour
while wonderfully combining comedy, pathos, and terrific songs?
George C. Scott is a fine actor but totally miscast as Scrooge
(as is Patrick Stewart.) The 1938 MGM version is wholly rubbish.
Albert Finney makes a good Scrooge but that film is destroyed by
awful songs and a plodding pace. Even the Sim '51 version --
while still the best-- adds some story-lines (especially in the
Christmas Past section) that do not hold a candle to those
imagined and written by our "faithful friend, C.D." People,
you need to READ the book and see how ALL filmed versions
fall short.

I prefer scrooge (1970)

Star Trek TNG's All Good Things is A Christmas Carol in all but name. Past, Present and Future timelines, Q as Jacob Marley and Picard discovering "the true meaning of Christmas" and visiting his "family" of Riker, Troi, Data et al.

What about An American Christmas Carol with Henry Winkler.

Wait Hold the Fort! How can you omit IMO one of the best versions of Christmas Carol? Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol. The music was pretty good too. My Favorites, Magoo's and the Alister Sim version.

I wanted to add that Jule Styne who wrote the music for Funny Girl originally had the famous song People pegged for Magoo's Christmas Carol. The song makes more sense in the Christmas Carol IMO.

I grew up watching the 1951 "Scrooge" movie and it still has a place in my heart. After reading the book in high school i understood that no movie or play could do the book justice. It starts with a great line about a door nail vs a coffin nail which contains the line "But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it" and the proceeds to smash the "wisdom of the world in which he finds himself. His words the voice is so beautiful/. I liked the Muppet's Christmas Carol. Gonzo and Rizzo elevate the movie from , just another Christmas Carol" to something unique and special. but I must say if anyone has any love of any of thhe movies above PLEASE read the book.

oh and Blackadder's Christmas Carol was a kick it didn't pretend to be "another Christmas Carol rip off but was a parody of those movies. The end is so Blackadder, I laughed and clapped. (I miss blackadder)

okay one more thought (and Doctor Who is the exception here) I think any TV show that dips in this pool to come up with its own trite stupid rip off, should be cancelled immediately.

I always figured Marley's Ghost was invisible in the 1935 version because they ran out of money. Maybe they blew the budget on that completely irrelevant scene where a group of nobles, not including anyone in the actual story, each a banquet and prepare for the arrival of the queen. It was certainly ridiculous to see Scrooge bellowing at the empty space in front of him.

I rewatched the 1971 version recently. It has some real craftsmanship. Speaking of The Ghost of Christmas Past, as you were, I liked how she was constantly shifting in form, much like the book described.

I'm actually quite partial to the 1982 cartoon. I'm not sure what swaths of the plot you're referring to; I thought it covered more of the bases than most versions out there. The folks at CED Magic concur.The acting may be stiff, but it's all of one piece, and it ultimately works stylistically. I was certainly charmed by the overall atmosphere, including the modest scale of Fezziwig's party and Scrooge's singing at Nephew Fred's house. And who could forget the flashback in which Marley dies at his desk and his ghost rises in chains from his body? Plus, since I saw this version again and again as a child, it shapes my impressions of all other versions. If the Shrouded Corpse scene is omitted, I'm going to be very unhappy. If The Ghost of Christmas Past is a beautiful young woman in a dress, nix!

It's not pedantic to complain about the mice; they're a slap in the face.

George C Scott version is #1 in my book. Alasdair Sim version is #2. Muppets come in at #3. Worst version? Patrick Stewart's. Scrooge chasing kids around with a cane? Please.

Albert Finney musical is the cream of these movies: I cant believe a person who
is a make a cristmass carol fan and makes a list with four of the six best at
its top would bad mouth the best of the bunch (and one of two that is oscor
worthy) (withsome of the best songs in a FILM) and then leave the other
ompletely off "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol!"

Sorry but I disagree on the Christmas carol musical. Live action wise its one of the best. The change that Kelsey does to become the happy Scrooge is completely different to the dull miserable one. Most of your picks are off, although I am a huge fan of the story owning seven versions of the story and all versions of DVD and video I still think that the musical was better than u make outing

Where can I acquire the 1923 version? The newly restored version of the classic 1951 film was supposed to have included extras, including the 1923 version. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as truth in advertising, as this DVD does not include the 1923 version. Was it released anywhere else?

Also forgot An American Christmas Carol. Starring Henry Winkler as the Scrooge character, this version was shot in an old Ontario town. Largely panned, I truly enjoyed this version.

Seriously? You didn't like the Christmas Carol musical? That's in my top 5 favorite Christmas Carol adaptations! I absolutely love the songs and the way Scrooge's past was fleshed out. And it certainly wasn't lacking in warmth and fun.

And Patrick Stewart's Christmas Carol is another favorite. It's been a family tradition to watch it every year.

I'm glad someone mentioned An American Christmas Carol. It's one of my favs..with a credible performance by Henry Winkler.

I'm sorry, but I totally disagree with your review of the 2004 musical. It was emotional, well-written, and overall an excellent show. To be fair, I have never watched any other adaptations, but the musical ranks among my favorite films of all time. You criticized it for being like Sweeney Todd, which I have never watched, but I feel that you are criticizing it just for being a musical. That's the point of the whole show. The songs are touching and well-sung.

You also said the actors didn't break out of their older roles. However, I never watched any of those shows you mentioned, and I felt they played their parts very well. I think it might be just your personal association of the actors that ruined it for you. Not for everyone else.

All in all, I think it's a wonderful film.

I agree with your opinion on the musical. :)

1951 hands down the best version.

What clinched Alistair Sim's 1951 Scrooge win at best Christmas Carol rendition for me is the reaction he delivers upon the arrival of Marley's Ghost. The bells ringing, the camera shots from his face to the door, the dramatic pause, the cry of sheer terror Sim releases with the bursting open of the door, bowl of gruel flying....all just nailed it for me.

"the Great Escape was screened on Christmas Day for the first time in 1840."

I need some clarification here. Is this referring to the classic WWII escape movie? And exactly how was anything "screened" in 1840?

I have no clue what you are talking about.

I haven't seen all of the adaptations listed here, but one of my favorites is the Patrick Stewart version. I think it does a really good job of staying close to the book more so than any other that I've seen.

Never. The only thing that should be nixed are the trite and unoriginal sitcom versions.

Looks more like Jane Krakowski (who played The Ghost of Christmas Past) to me

I'm surprised (unless I've missed it), that there's been no mention of Rod Serling's 1964 'A Carol for Another Christmas' with Sterling Heydon, Peter sellers, r
Robert Shaw and other guest stars, which updates the story to the cold-war era and is filled with the political, powerful but not personal (no Tiny Tim) and is filled with Serling's musing's on mans-inhumanity-to-man. Tough stuff for 1964.

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol.

Thank you, Melanie. This - strangely enough - was the very first version of the story I ever saw on TV. It whet my appetite for many more over the decades. I bought it off Amazon last year but it's magic had faded somewhat!

My absolute favourite is “Scrooge” starring Albert Finney.
And as far as I’m concerned the songs are terrific. In my view better than “Oliver”
which it is close to stylistically. I have also seen it performed twice in the
theatre in the 1990s starring Anthony Newley. It is still being performed (I
believe) on stage annually with Tommy Steele in the lead role. Poor songs

One that would have topped the worst list had it been included was 1979's An American Christmas Carol with Henry Winkler...his character wasn't named Scrooge but you included Frank Cross so Winkler's Benedict Slade would have been ok, too...I was a kid when it aired but I remember thinking, " Poor Fonzie!"

I have both the VHS & dvd of Muppet Christmas Carol & both include The Love is Gone song- which is perfect in every way & moved things along nicely...then the revised version at the end brings Scrooge full circle...Only Paul Williams could have written such heartbreaking song then turned it uplifting...

i posted before i saw this...i love the fonz but the movie was horrible- he deserved a much better script and makeup artist

i love the fact that the muppet christmas carol also gave a nod to my favorite version- the 1951 movie with alastair sim- with a scene in the beginning when scrooge gets to his office & the 'man/muppet' waiting to tell him he can't pay his debt is a dead ringer for Mervyn Johns, who played bob crachet in the 1951 version...always clever

ok- so i'm a year late ... but there are so many great side jokes in there & it's one of the things muppet versions of classics always has...fun for the kids but keep the grownups engaged, too...lol... first time i heard that line about the marley bros i nearly choked on my eggnog-lol....

How could you forget "Magoo's Christmas Carol"?

(she also played Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock- but the above was more a comment on her terrible acting in this film. Jane Krakowski= Not Bad. Jenna Maroney= Terrible.)

Ah - never watched 30 Rock! She's best known to me as her out of Ally McBeal

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