Film / A Christmas Carol (1984)

I decided that he was the loneliest man in the world, and that's how I played him.
George C. Scott on his interpretation of Scrooge

A Christmas Carol is a 1984 made-for-TV film adaptation of the novel of the same name, directed by Clive Donner. It stars George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge, the man who thinks Christmas is "humbug" until he's visited by three ghosts with an agenda. It was released in theaters in England, where it was also filmed.

David Warner, who spent most of his career playing villains and psychos, has a major Playing Against Type moment as gentle, kindly Bob Cratchit. Edward Woodward goes from avuncular to terrifying as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Roger Rees plays Fred. A young Joanne Whalley appears in one scene as Scrooge's sister Fan, and Frank Finlay appears as Jacob Marley.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Scrooge's father might be his Freudian Excuse, though Scrooge never relies on his actions to justify his behavior.
  • Acid Reflux Nightmare: Ebenezer initially is prepared to dismiss Marley's appearance as this.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • The touching scene where Scrooge comes to Fred's house to accept his invitation for Christmas dinner at last, fearful that he would be rejected, only to find he needn't have doubted Fred's love.
    • This version also fills in some backstory. The reason why young Ebenezer was essentially abandoned at boarding school is because his mother died in childbirth and his father blamed him. Scrooge's feeling that he wasn't wealthy enough to support Belle is here presented as why he threw himself so single-mindedly into making money.
    • This version has Scrooge meet Belle at Fezziwig's Christmas ball. In the original story, we don't meet Belle until the breakup scene.
    • There's a scene early in the movie where Scrooge meets Tiny Tim outside the office and rudely dismisses him as a beggar, not knowing that Tim is waiting for his father.
    • The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge a little camp of homeless people that includes a desperate family of four. This serves as a segue to the scene with Ignorance and Want.
    • The movie includes a scene showing what a ruthless businessman Scrooge is, when he drives a hard bargain with the men at 'Change that want to buy his corn.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • This version of Scrooge comes across as a great deal colder than the original. Rather than being indifferent he seems to find the suffering of others darkly amusing. He also makes more efforts to defend himself from the spirits than in most versions.
    • Scrooge's father also gets this. As in the book, Fan tells young Scrooge that their father has changed and wishes him home. When Scrooge meets him, however, he's still cold and dismissive of his son and only sees him for three days before making him work at Fezziwig's.
  • The Aloner: Scott's interpretation of Scrooge, which is consistent with the novel's descriptions of him and his house.
  • Bad Future: It certainly is for the Cratchits, who are mourning Tiny Tim's death when Scrooge encounters them in the future. Doubly bad since Christmas Present had threatened exactly that earlier. Also for Scrooge himself, who sees that unless he changes, he will die alone, neglected and unmourned.
  • Broken Tears:
    • Bob Cratchit, briefly, in the vision of Christmas Yet to Come.
    • Scrooge, when he brushes the snow off the gravestone and his worst fear is confirmed.
  • Carpet of Virility: The Ghost of Christmas Present's exposed hairy chest fits in well with his overt manliness and eventually serves to help make him more intimidating.
  • Christmas Carolers: Right before Marley shows.
  • Cobweb of Disuse: The ringer on Scrooge's doorbell is covered in cobwebs, implying that no one ever calls and Scrooge is too cheap to hire a maid.
  • Creepy Child: Ignorance and Want.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: The motivations of the three spirits and Marley. The Ghost of Christmas Present in particular seems to almost enjoy throwing Scrooge's words back in his teeth.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • The Ghost of Christmas Present.
    • The Ghost of Christmas Past can also be snarky, and even cruel.
    • Scrooge has his moments, such as when he tells the third ghost, "You're devilish hard to have a conversation with."
  • Death by Childbirth: Scrooge's mother died giving birth to him, leading to a troubled relationship with his father.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: When Belle's husband tells her about Scrooge working alone and miserable, she's quite saddened by the life he has made for himself. Ebenezer snaps that he doesn't need her pity before Christmas Past helpfully reminds him that Belle can't hear him.
  • Dying Alone: Scrooge's fate without the Heel–Face Turn.
  • Foreshadowing: The last simile thrown out in Fred's game is "Silent as the grave," shortly before the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come arrives.
  • Good Is Not Soft: The three spirits have Scrooge's best interest at heart, and are good, but in no way are they soft. Past and Present frequently criticize and debate with Scrooge, while the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come lets his future speak for itself.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: The Cratchits, as well as Belle and her new husband, if the number of their children is any indication.
  • Greek Chorus: The brass band carolers as Scrooge heads from his office to the London Exchange to his home:
    Brass band carolers: [singing] He strove for silver in his heart, and gold in all his days,
    His reason weak, his anger sharp, and sorrow all his pay,
    He went to church but once a year, and that was Christmas day,
    So grant us all a change of heart, Rejoice for Mary's son,
    Pray peace on Earth to all mankind, God bless us, every one.
  • Happily Married: Belle marries a kindhearted man and has many children.
  • Happy Dance: Scrooge dances around his room in delirious happiness once he realizes he still has time to change his life and avoid all the misery he would otherwise have caused.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The entire purpose (and result) of Marley and the Ghosts' visits.
  • Ill Boy: Tiny Tim, who would have died if Scrooge had not made his Heel–Face Turn.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Tiny Tim is the kind that exists to be a shining example of virtue and then die, although Scrooge's change of heart saved him from the second half of that.
  • Ironic Echo: At one point in the film, Scrooge states that it would be better for the poor to die and reduce the population. The Ghost of Christmas Present then uses the exact same statement Scrooge had said against him when they both witness how ill Tiny Tim is.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: One of Belle's reasons for leaving Scrooge. She realizes that the now-mercenary Scrooge will regret marrying a girl without fortune.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Scrooge dismissed Christmas as "a false, commercial enterprise." He said this in the 1800's. Considering what it's turned into today, he's pretty accurate.
  • Kick the Dog: The exchange between Scrooge and Tiny Tim at the beginning of the film:
    Tiny Tim: [as Scrooge comes out of the office into the freezing cold] Merry Christmas, Mr Scrooge!
    Scrooge: Don't beg on this corner, boy.
    Tiny Tim: I'm not begging, sir, I am Tim — Tim Cratchit. I am waiting for my father.
    Scrooge: [snorts] Tim Cratchit? Hm. Then you will have a long wait, won't you?
    Tiny Tim: Merry Christmas, sir.
    Scrooge: [walking off] Humbug.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present do not waste a single opportunity to blast Scrooge for his cruelty, delusions or stupidity. Past seems alien enough that she really might not be doing it on purpose, but Present seems to especially enjoy taking the piss out of him.
  • Literal Genie: The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come does this when Scrooge begs him to "take him home." He takes him to the grave he's buried in, since that's his 'home' now.
  • Maternal Death? Blame the Child: In this version, the reason why Scrooge's father has essentially abandoned his son at boarding school, as Scrooge tells the Ghost of Christmas Past.
  • Mood Whiplash: At least twice. We go from hearing carolers to hearing Marley's creepy voice as Scrooge walks home. Then, in Christmas Present, we go straight from Fred's family Christmas party to a deserted part of London, where a family with two kids is living on the street.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Fred gets the last name Holywell; his wife who was not named at all in the story gets named Janet. The charity solicitors are known as Messrs. Poole and Hacking, while two of Scrooge's fellow merchants at the London Exchange are known in this film as Tipton and Pemberton.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Scott simply utilizes his own American accent. It works in favor of the film by averting the distraction of a Fake Brit.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • The other wandering spirits aren't seen, but are heard in the form of shrieks coming from outside Scrooge's window.
    • The Ghost of Christmas Future is hooded, silent, and usually seen from a distance or by shadow. The only hint of its body we see is one of its hands, which has unusually long fingers.
    • A similar case happens with its seeming lack of arrival. Marley tells Scrooge that the third ghost "will come in his own due time", instead of the previous 1 o'clock, 2 o'clock pattern. Scrooge is not even returned to his bedroom when the Ghost of Christmas Present leaves, causing him to fear that the third ghost might not even appear and that Scrooge has been left to freeze.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • This reaction is clear in Bob Cratchit's expression when he realizes he's late to work on the 26th and Scrooge is in the counting house waiting for him.
    • Done subtly with Scrooge. When he sees the old lady selling the stuff she took from the dead man's room, he indignantly says "Those are my things!" Moments later, after the implications of that fact hit home, he backtracks, saying that they just look like his things.
  • Ominous Fog: A lot of this to set the mood, like when Scrooge is going back to his empty house and he starts hearing spooky voices and sees a ghost hearse.
  • Parlor Games: The guests at Fred's Christmas party are playing "Similes". Fred says the first part of a common expression, such as "Quiet as..." or "Tight as...", which the player then has to fill in ('a mouse' and 'a drum', respectively). The answer given, though, is "Tight as your Uncle Ebenezer's purse strings."
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Scrooge's reasoning for not putting more coal on the fire is pure business, as clothes are practical, cheap, and made for warming oneself while coal burns, is finite, and expensive.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Ghost of Christmas Present ends up delivering this to Scrooge.
    Ebenezer Scrooge: You use my own words against me?
    Ghost of Christmas Present: Yes! So perhaps, in the future, you will hold your tongue until you have discovered where the surplus population is, and who it is. It may well be that, in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child.
  • Replacement Love Interest: The man Belle ended up marrying after leaving Scrooge looks just like his past self.
  • Sarcasm Mode: The Ghost of Christmas Present really leans into this when throwing Scrooge's "Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons?" line back at him, after Scrooge wonders why no one will help Ignorance and Want.
  • See You in Hell: Inverted with Scrooge when Fred comes to his office to invite Scrooge to Christmas dinner:
    Fred: Please don't be angry, uncle. Come, dine with us tomorrow.
    Scrooge: [chuckles] Dine? I'd sooner see myself in hell first.
  • Stepford Snarker: This Scrooge uses humor, anger, and denial as defense mechanisms even as he's clearly shaken and softening by what he witnesses.
  • Theme Tune Cameo: God Bless Us Everyone is among the various songs the Christmas carolers sing, and is also the tune Scrooge's watch makes when it chimes.
  • Timeshifted Actor: Mark Strickson, fresh off his run on Doctor Who, plays Young Scrooge.
  • Truer to the Text:
    • Scrooge remembering the storybook characters he loved in the Past sequence is usually left out for brevity's sake, with this version being one of the few that keeps it.
    • This version also has the ghostly carriage Scrooge sees on his way home and Belle's scene with her husband and children, usually Adapted Out.
    • As Scrooge begs to be spared, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come's hand can be seen trembling, a minor detail from the book usually left out.
  • Unable to Support a Wife: In this adaptation, Scrooge starts out in his pursuit of business success because he didn't think he had enough money to support Belle.
  • The Unintelligible: The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come doesn't speak, but every time it "responds" to Scrooge, a metallic wail, possibly meant to evoke the screech of a graveyard's gate, is heard in the background.
    Scrooge: You're devilish hard to have a conversation with.