FX’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ brings a bleak lump of coal to the holidays
Indeed, beyond “A Christmas Carol” completists — those determined to have seen every retelling of Charles Dickens’ seasonal yarn — it’s not really clear who this is for. If the goal was to produce a version that would still leave you feeling kind of lousy, like a bleak lump of coal in your stocking, as opposed to infused with Christmas cheer, well, mission sort-of accomplished, but to what end?
Adapted with considerable liberties by Steven Knight (“Peaky Blinders”), and starring a spry-looking Guy Pearce as Ebenezer Scrooge, this latest version runs more than three hours with commercials, and just a bit less than that without them.
In the process, Knight has basically traded away one of the hallmarks of the original story — its economy, as Scrooge is shown the evil of his ways in one fantastical night — for an almost David Lynch-like indulgence, teasing out aspects of the tale that always seemed barely relevant in the past.
The result is a production that’s certainly eerie and handsome, while incorporating some powerful, even disturbing moments — not only in the causes of Scrooge’s moral descent, but the unethical way he wields power through his business dealings and personal interactions. More than just a guy who doesn’t like Christmas, there’s a cruelty to his actions, along with stark manifestations of his complete disregard for his fellow men.
For regular viewers of assorted fare based on the material — including animation, musicals and contemporary twists — it’s always interesting to see what’s emphasized in terms of Scrooge’s travels with the ghosts of past, present and future. Yet this “Christmas Carol” falls victim to feeling plodding and dull in the early going, and relatively hurried toward the end.
If there’s a saving grace, it’s in the casting — not only with Pearce, who brings edge to Scrooge’s depravity, but Andy Serkis as the ghost of Christmas past, Stephen Graham as since-deceased business partner Jacob Marley, and Joe Alwyn and Vinette Robinson as Bob and Mary Cratchit, the latter receiving a significant upgrade in terms of her place in the story.
FX’s decision to consolidate the presentation into a single night perhaps reflects some of its uncertainty about the audience for this British project, whose most notable footnote is that it airs exactly 176 years after Dickens’ beloved book hit shelves.
Counting Tom Hardy and director Ridley Scott among its producers, this “A Christmas Carol” boasts star power in front of and behind the camera, and deserves a smidgen of credit for its ambition and the immersive nature of its 19th-century trappings.
That’s not enough to recommend watching it, but to those hardy souls who insist on trying, as Tiny Tim would say, “God bless us, everyone.”
“A Christmas Carol” airs Dec. 19 at 7:30 p.m. on FX.