There are new versions coming out all the time of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It’s hard to screw up that great story. Here are a few who didn’t.
Alastair Sim–A Christmas Carol (1951)
This is one of the old black-and-white versions that tend to be described in the tv guides as ‘handsome’ or ‘faithful’ adaptations. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Sim embodies Ebenezer Scrooge with a minimum of fuss, managing to convey both the soul rot and the redemption of the man using mostly his big, haunted eyes.
Bill Murray–Scrooged (1988)
There’s some truth to the common criticism that Murray’s Scrooge-like Frank Cross character was neither nasty enough before the ghosts nor nice enough after. Murray does come across at times like Nick Rails does Dickens without the singing. But I’ve come to include this version in my regular holiday rotation. The humor and the meta-references are a lot of fun. And Murray does manage to embody the desperation of a soul who’s not entirely sold on either his own wretchedness or his own redemption. In the end, I bought it.
Cicely Tyson–Ms. Scrooge (1997)
This made-for-TV version updates Dickens to modern times as Tyson plays hard-hearted businesswoman Ebenita Scrooge. Her performance is a triumph of understated physicality. She’s so tight and drawn when she’s evil that she looks like she might break in half and could be used for firewood. Watch as she changes before your eyes into a warm, soft human being with an open face and sparkling eyes. One sour note: This version’s Nephew Fred, changed into an angry fire-and-brimstone preacher. Fred should be all warmth and forgiveness, representing the true spirit of the season.
Patrick Stewart–A Christmas Carol (1999)
Stewart had a lot of practice getting the nuances of Scrooge just right as he did a one-man stage play for years. He hits all the right notes, from the thunder-browed miser of the pre-three-ghosts to the stunned, giddy man freed from his own ghosts in the end. Bonus: Richard E. Grant as the definitive Bob Cratchit, at least in my mind.
Vanessa Williams–A Diva Christmas Carol (2000)
Greedy, bitchy pop star Ebony is a fun edition to the Scrooge tradition. The elements of parody don’t detract from the heart of the story as Ebony is forced to face how she got this way and what it cost her. And this VH1-produced version uses a great device for the Ghost of Christmas Future; an authentic-looking Behind the Music complete with the guy’s voice who narrates the real ones. Bonus: Kathy Griffin as the salty Ghost of Christmas Past with some great one-liners:
Diva: Why can’t any of these people hear me?
Ghost Kathy: Oh, these aren’t real people. It’s like … L.A.
Diva: (nodding). Oh…
What are some of your favorites?