Writer: Charles Dickens
Adapted by: David Morris
Director: Jacqui Morris
If A Christmas Carol is one of your favourite festive stories then this really is the year for you with several (lockdown dependent) stage versions planned as well as this new dance film created by Jacqui Morris and David Morris in collaboration with revered choreographer Russell Maliphant. With a Victorian toy theatre aesthetic this unusual production, inspired by animation, combines live-action movement with the voices of a star-studded cast.
On Christmas Eve Ebenezer Scrooge locks up his money-lending business and heads home for the night spreading misery in his wake. Tormented by the ghostly form of his old partner Jacob Marley, Scrooge is visited by three spirits determined to show the miser that he was once a better man and the effect he now has on the people around him including his nephew Fred and clerk Bob Cratchit.
It is fair to say there has never been a version of Dickens’ famous tale quite like this. Using the original text and dialogue as its foundation, each of the principal roles is double cast, so the person representing the character on screen is different to the actor saying the lines. The result is a series of dance performances inspired by the story with an overlaid audio drama offering narration and dialogue.
Set in a hand-drawn cardboard theatre as two children present the story to their family, the camera and the performers move in and around an illustrated structure and through layered images representing the London multitudes as depicted in the original novella. Charmingly rendered by designer Darko Petrovic and cinematographer Michael Wood, the cast spring to life by a strip of shops, Scrooge’s office and the time travelling scenes of his life, reinforcing the slightly fantastical tone required for Dickens’ story of supernatural transformation.
Maliphant’s choreography is restrained, slow and deliberate as though his characters are reanimated or spectral figures themselves. This is controlled movement, never quite dance and A Christmas Carol does not let loose into full dance performance even in scenes where parties occur. The storytelling is strong throughout with athletic twists, stretches and broad spins that are characteristic of Maliphant’s work.
The approach to voiceover is moderately successful and Sian Philips’ narration is particularly excellent, helping to transport the audience between different sections of the story and into Scrooge’s mind. The series of disembodied voices make for a strange viewing experience however with dual performers not always matching one another in the leading roles.
Simon Russell Beale’s vocal Scrooge seems to undergo a less significant conversion than the more sympathetic dance performance from Michael Nunn, while headline contributions from Carrie Mulligan as the voice of Belle and Daniel Kaluyya as that of the Ghost of Christmas Present are fairly short; even Martin Freeman’s Bob Cratchit has only a few lines. Meanwhile onscreen, Karl Ferglund Brekke as Bob and Simone Donati as Fred physically inhabit their roles well, as do dancers Hannah Kidd as an emotive Mrs Cratchit and Dana Fouras as the ethereal Ghost of Christmas Past.
Given the mixed media approach that combines animation, vocal performance and dance some scenes do fall flat including the out-of-keeping pop video styling of the Ghost of Christmas Present. But this unusual version of A Christmas Carol is an enjoyable one, emphasising Dickens’ original text while putting dance and expressive movement at the heart of a major cinematic release.
Released on 4 December 2020