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FX’s A Christmas Carol review: Darker and more perverse than Scrooges of yore

Guy Pearce as Scrooged paints a new portrait of this antihero who finds redemption. Pic credit: Robert Viglasky/FX
Guy Pearce as Scrooge paints a new portrait of this antihero who finds redemption. Pic credit: Robert Viglasky/FX

Scrooge and the tale told by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, has been a holiday treat in many forms over time.

A Christmas Carol is one to watch this Thursday on FX, but comes with a caveat: It is adult fare with themes far too upsetting for kids to watch.

If you like it on the dark and twisty side as I do, you will enjoy this. If classic Scrooge is your jam, you may find it very disturbing.

My first viewing of this Dickens classic was an old black and white film shown on TV starring Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge.

And later, a favorite version of this well-worn tale of avarice and enlightenment was Bill Murray’s 1988 Scrooged, which captured the core messaging but added the ills (apartheid, homelessness) of the times in a way that didn’t step on the toes of Ebenezer’s culminating emotional about-face.

And I cry every time I watch Murray have his epiphany on live TV. It was the right messaging for the era, and it still resonates today. We are our brother’s keeper, and our actions and kindnesses add up and matter so very much. (Hello… It’s A Wonderful Life.)

Have a sandwich…HERE:

That, to me, is what Dickens’ spirit of Scrooge and A Christmas Carol is entirely — to leave the world in a better place and be kind and help people any way you can if it is within your means. To live as selflessly as you can muster. Don’t be a stingy dick.

The new A Christmas Carol feels much darker as it draws themes of the sexual politics we are still dealing with now heading into 2020. The silent suffering so many women endured over time, just to get along and financially survive, are echoed here.

A Christmas Carol does not evoke the same emotions as Murray’s Scrooged. But I appreciated what Steven Knight did with his version of this deeply flawed character.

Guy Pearce is a sexy and downright sociopathic Scrooge. He cannot help this, as he is by nature an alluring man, and it cannot be ignored or dressed over in costume or dimmed with aging makeup.

The production aces the dreary and the lavish Victorian Gothic atmosphere, and the pairing of Pearce as Ebenezer Scrooge the miser and his late partner Jacob Marley, a very entertaining Stephen Graham, are well suited in frame.

Graham’s boisterous character is given more prominent backstory and fleshed out more than in other renditions of this tale, and that is a good thing.

Pearce, as Scrooge’s childhood backstory, is also illuminated, giving some context to why he is such a heartless bastard. His father’s ultra-violence and the trauma from it all completely screwed up his mind.

It is Tim's dire circumstance and plight and his words heard in ghostly visions that crack the veneer of Scrooge. Pic credit: FX
It is Tim’s dire circumstance and plight and his words heard in ghostly visions that crack the veneer of Scrooge. Pic credit: FX

This brings us to the unfortunate in the tale — Bob Cratchit (Joe Alwyn) and his family, who suffer along with him. Scrooge pays him little, pushes him to the limit, and never takes care of him despite years of loyalty.

It is his eternally sunny afflicted child (Tiny Tim played by Lenny Rush) who shames us, complainers all, this poor child living on borrowed time who is grateful for the very little he has.

Tim’s cheeriness of spirit keeps Bob from completely losing it. It is his presence and words in visions presented by the Ghosts who crack away at the ice inside Scrooge’s glacial heart.

Mary Cratchit is tortured by Pearce's Scrooge and it is hard to watch. Pic credit: FX
Mary Cratchit is tortured by Pearce’s Scrooge and it is hard to watch. Pic credit: FX

But not his wife, Mary Cratchit (Vinette Robinson). In this version of Christmas Carol, that is where the most significant divide comes from the original tale. No spoilers but know that she bears the brunt of the evil manipulations of Scrooge in a cruel game of “The Human Beast.” Some trespasses are too mortal and soul-searing to ever forgive, lest forget.

There are the three spirits to follow, the Ghost of Christmas Past (Andy Serkis) sends Scrooge to revisit the horrors of his childhood (far darker than Murray’s cheapskate meat slinging dad). Serkis is a marvelous ghost. His interactions with Marley are welcome too.

Charlotte Riley is “Lottie/ Ghost of Christmas Present,” and the always commanding Jason Flemyng is “Ghost of Christmas Future.”

Another thing that came to mind as this FX version of Dickens’ classic played was our new gilded age playing out in the news. The rising tide of income disparity in the country and worldwide. So many are doing insanely well, yet homelessness and food insecurity are at all-time highs.

So many are losing their jobs, industries, and livelihood. People with education and degrees are scrambling. People who are in manufacturing and retail are SOL. You will think of that and other cliches about the rich getting richer too as you watch this all unfold.

That all makes this a hard sell as a Christmas event. Despite that, I did enjoy it for what it was, and the performances delivered.

The three-hour feature could have used more heartfelt redemption and a Ghost with the energetic shame-inducing pluck of a Carol Kane who could have jolted him out of his dour outlook.

Instead, we got a Taboo or Penny Dreadful-esque Scrooge. And yet the event was enjoyed very much despite these notable tonal shifts in the story, but the holiday purists may feel slightly cheated and long to screen the old Murray film to get their cathartic cry on.

The FX Original Movie is written and executive produced by Steven Knight, and executive produced by Tom Hardy, Ridley Scott, Dean Baker, David W. Zucker, and Kate Crowe, and produced by Julian Stevens.

A Christmas Carol is produced by FX Productions in association with the BBC, Scott Free, and Tom Hardy’s Hardy Son & Baker.

A Christmas Carol – An FX Original Movie – premieres Thursday, December 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT on FX


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