I emerged from my Reading Days last night, for a trip to town to see The Man Who Invented Christmas – and, unlike the rest of my party, quite loved it.
I admit I’d been wondering a little as I watched: the film is as lovely as a vintage illustration or a Christmas card, and Dan Stevens is vividly endearing as the overimaginative, struggling, high-strung writer – but there are two aspects of the writing that, while very, very appealing to me, are perhaps not made to click with an Italian audience…
One is the sheer wealth of big, small and minute Dickensiana: some of it will be inevitably lost on anyone not well acquainted with the writer’s life and works – and you must bear in mind that, over here, poor Dickens is mostly dismissed as a very old-fashioned children’s author. My generation was the last, I think, to suffer through cavalierly abridged (and not always very good) translations of Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and, perhaps, Little Dorrit. Some motivated individuals read Pickwick at a later stage, and everyone watched at some point at least one of the many transpositions of A Christmas Carol – but, unless one reads English Literature at University, that’s pretty much it. Therefore, many smaller things that make the joy of a Dickens buff (the green-clad Ghost of Christmas Present, for instance, or Grip the Raven, or the names in the notebook, just to name a few…) and add layers to the film are at a risk of just being lost.
For another thing, there is a strong metaliterary flavour to the film: Dickens lives very much in his head, constantly haunted by his story, followed around by his characters, with his life and his tales moulding each other – often to the dismay of those surrounding him. One is not surprised at all that the screenplay is the work of Susan Coyle, with Slings and Arrows to her name, and a long experience in the theatres… And again, I loved and related to the portrayal of a writer’s life – but, as I’ve learned to my cost, Italian audiences are not always overfond of metaliterary games.
Oh, but I loved it all: a writerly Christmas story with Dickens in spades, characters jumping out of the pages to discuss how they are being written, and the looks of a Christmas illustration… as my mother said last night, one would think it was written to make me happy.