Saturday, December 7, 2013

Year Two. Day Seven: "A Christmas Carol" (2000)

For all the modern day retellings of A Christmas Carol to come out of America, there has been a surprising dearth of similar versions in the UK.

This made for ITV 2000 version goes some way to redress the balance, which despite having a fantastic central performance from Ross Kemp, yields only mixed results.

Kemp plays Eddie Scrooge, a ruthless loan shark who preys upon the poor and vulnerable by offering loans with such merciless interest they are almost impossible to pay off. This part of the story works very well and I thought it was both clever and important to show how for so many, many people, Christmas is neither a time of joy or abundance; but an anxious and fearful one where parents worry how they will manage to make ends meet as the financial demands of Christmas take hold.

The ghost of Jacob Marley here is represented by another loan shark who once worked alongside Scrooge and was killed under suspicious circumstances the year before. The tangent into the death of Marley was rather an unwelcome one, but mostly this is owing to me enjoying the story when it is kept as simple as possible.

Marley also plays the Ghost of Christmas Present while Scrooge's father and a silent boy are Past and Future respectively. The roles of "Ignorance" and "Want" are a pair of homeless siblings who play a far larger role in this retelling.

The major flaw in this retelling, and it is a HUGE one, is that after each of his encounters with the ghosts, Scrooge awakens on the same Christmas Eve and must relive the day over and over again, Groundhog Day style. Each day he attempts to make things better and remedy his past mistakes, slowly thawing as Christmas day draws closer.

This change to the text is fundamentally unsatisfying as it robs us of the euphoria of Scrooge's redemption. Watching him become slowly more compassionate may be more believable but a fable such as this does not dwell in the realm of authenticity.

The love story between Scrooge and Belle (or Bella as she is called here) becomes a central part of this adaptation which feels unnecessary, but it's sweetly told and doesn't feel too shoehorned in as it has in other versions I have seen.

The greatest asset this version has in its favour is Ross Kemp, still best known as Grant Mitchell from Eastenders, he's often underrated as an actor, as most soap actors are, but here he offers a compellingly dark portrayal of a man who is gradually learning that he still has a conscience, despite trying to keep it quiet for so long.

Despite the changes to the format and overcomplicating the plot, this version did manage an ending that was both sweet and festive which promised not only hope for the future, but that a time may come when the UK makes a truly great modern day adaptation of the story.

 As gritty as a lump of coal on the fireplace.

"A Christmas Carol" (2000) 3/5

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