Personally, I think Christmas isn’t Christmas without at least one version of A Christmas Carol being on TV over the festive season (my favourite is actually the Muppets’ take on the story: it’s great fun, and remarkably faithful to the original source material, believe it or not) – and, most importantly, I re-read the book every year. However, I’ve also recently become intrigued by the many early film versions of this classic tale, particularly those made during the silent era of British cinema. And it is there that we are heading today, via the BFI National Archive.
Last year, I posted a fascinating film clip of the 1901 version, which is possibly the earliest cinema adaptation of Charles Dickens’s festive fable of redemption known to exist. This Christmas Eve, however, we’re moving forward in time by thirteen years, with a short extract from the 1914 version. Released during the first Christmas season of World War One, which, with hindsight, adds a stark layer of poignancy to the Victorian sentimentality of the story, this film is regarded as being among the best Dickens adaptations of the period.
This particular extract shows us Scrooge’s Christmas Eve encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Present as they visit the seasonal celebrations of both Scrooge’s nephew and his clerk Bob Cratchit, with the clear emphasis on the contrast between rich and poor that we also find in Dickens’s novella. In fact, this take on the story is based far more closely on the original source material than the 1901 film, which appears to have been as much of an adaptation of a popular stage version as it was of the book itself.
Next to nothing is known about the 1901 actors, but in 1914 Scrooge was played by the well known contemporary stage actor Charles Rock, and he hits a convincing and believable note with his performance (his facial expressions in particular are wonderful). The Ghost, played by the fabulously-named Wyndham Guise, is suitably supernatural and certainly looks the part – plus the clever ghostly special effects seem to be a fair way ahead of their time (and clearly show how much film-making technology had advanced in the decade or so since the 1901 adaptation).
The acting is enjoyable, and the special effects are fun. All in all, this is a well-made and intriguing adaptation in which a great deal is neatly expressed in a series of short scenes (such as those that can be seen in this extract) which tell this well-loved story in an effective and economical fashion, moving the plot forward without losing any of the most important points of the tale. Just as any good adaptation of A Christmas Carol should be, this is a deliciously spooky seasonal treat.
Enjoy your Christmas Eve, and I hope you have no ghostly visitations tonight….
You can also find more BFI festive goodies (and numerous other seasonal posts) on Another Kind Of Mind here.