By Brian Boone
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a classic on a different level than other masterworks of the English language. Since it was first published in 1843, it’s become almost folklore or mythology, part of the collective cultural consciousness and as much a part of the holidays as eggnog and Santa. Here are some of the most notable, quirky, and fascinating adaptations of the timeless story of Scrooge, ghosts, and Tiny Tim.
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World-famous mime Marcel Marceau was a hardcore Dickens enthusiast. (His dominant stage persona, Bip, is named for Pip from Great Expectations.) For a 1973 episode of the BBC anthology series Omnibus, Marceau performed A Christmas Carol — silently, in mime, and completely by himself.
In 1971, famed animator Richard Williams (he’d later lead production of Who Framed Roger Rabbit) made a 25-minute version of A Christmas Carol. He won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for his hand-drawn project that is a cartoon, but which is definitely not for children. He captures the severeness and starkness of Dickens’ text and based the imagery on creepy 19th century engravings.
Comin’ Uptown enjoyed a month-long Broadway engagement over the holiday season of 1979-1980. A boisterous stage soul-oriented musical version of A Christmas Carol, it updated the action to 20th century Harlem, re-imagining Scrooge as a slumlord threatening to foreclose on apartments and a church.
Up until the early 20th century, it was a Christmas tradition in the U.K. and the U.S. for families to gather around the fire and tell each other ghost stories. Dickens clearly wrote A Christmas Carol with that in mind, and it’s the last remnant of that holiday custom. As such, the 2019 limited series version made for BBC One and FX is all about the embracing the spooky, dark, and unsettling elements of Dickens’ text. It’s almost a horror show, all darkness, shadows, angry ghosts, and harsh consequences for Scrooge.
The 1951 film A Christmas Carol, also marketed as Scrooge, emphasizes how Ebenezer Scrooge wasn’t just a grumpy, sad curmudgeon in Dicken’s book — he was a nasty, vindictive, monster. In this adaptation, he rants at hungry beggars, talks about how debtors’ prisons are a good thing, and doesn’t much regret not seeing his old friend and business partner Marley before he died because the guy dared die during working hours.
The all-time most faithful adaptation of A Christmas Carol happens to also be the one with musical numbers, two Marley ghosts, and a slew of Muppets. The 1992 movie The Muppet Christmas Carol did what few other movies did, preserving large swaths of Dickens’ original, descriptive prose and insightful character and plot insights. Filmmakers did that by making Dickens a character in the film, a narrator observing the proceedings—and portrayed by Gonzo the Great. (And Muppet Show hecklers Statler and Walford play Jacob and Robert Marley.)