After the huge success of his novel Oliver Twist and three subsequent failures, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) is beset by writer's block and financial woes. However, he soon finds inspiration from his family and decides to write a story about Christmas, a time of year that's fallen out of fashion in Victorian England...
Christmas movies work entirely to their own logic, and really are a genre all of their own making. Like all genres, there's very often more bad than good and precious few that have staying power beyond the holiday period. The best ones usually attempt to come at the whole idea of Christmas from a new perspective; Scrooged worked its magic by taking a cynical Bill Murray at the height of his powers and hurling him - literally and figuratively - in the middle of a twee, sickly earnest Christmas movie that he picks apart with malicious delight. If you had to describe The Man Who Invented Christmas, it'd be that very film that Scrooged is critiquing. (Yes, Scrooged was about a live TV production of A Christmas Carol, but the analogy stands.)
Dan Stevens is introduced as Charles Dickens to thunderous applause during a book tour in America (really the Olympia) for Oliver Twist, but soon fast forwards to him dejected and brow-beaten by a string of failures and looming financial peril. Ranging around his house and the streets of London (really Mountjoy Square), Dickens soon hits upon a novel idea - to write a story about the nature of Christmas and its redemptive spirit on a tired, angry man. With the help of his agent, played by Justin Edwards, he soon begins work and draws inspiration from London and its citizens, and his somewhat manic home life - typified by his well-meaning father and mother, Jonathan Pryce and Ger Ryan respectively.
The film portrays the creative process that Dickens undergoes very well; Scrooge - played by the ever-reliable Christopher Plummer - appears to Dickens first as an unnamed mourner in a dark graveyard and then harasses him in his study with his opinion on Christmas and Dickens' work thus far. It makes for some funny moments, particularly when Scrooge argues that his character is completely unsympathetic. The cast of characters in Dickens' novel begins to fill out with the Ghosts Of Christmas Past, Present and Future - all played by people in his life, and possessing exaggerated features he's observed. Jacob Marley, for example, is actually Dickens' lawyer and banker, whereas the Ghost of Christmas Past is an Irish chambermaid. While it's an inventive way of showing how he came up with A Christmas Carol, the parallel story of Dickens' own life and his tumultuous relationship with his family - particularly his father - crosses over and slows both his work and the pace of the film down.
Stevens plays Dickens as a manic and giddy child, prancing through each scene with so much sugary delight that you'll need to get your foot amputated by the time the credits roll. Christopher Plummer, as mentioned, is effectively droll and dry as Scrooge whilst Jonathan Pryce is equally effective as the hapless but good-hearted father of Dickens. The script does veer into dark territory, particularly a somewhat disturbing sequence in which Dickens' early life is revealed and the reason for his animosity towards his father. However, when you consider that most of the film is so light and airy, it makes sense to have something like that to balance it all out.
By and large, The Man Who Invented Christmas is a decent effort at capturing the process of bringing a story to life and the inspirations that helped it along. While it might be too twee and sincere for its own good, it nevertheless has a well-earned charm to it.