Thursday, December 12, 2013

Year Two. Day Twelve: "Ms. Scrooge" (1997)

Despite viewing a plethora of made for American TV contemporary remakes of "A Christmas Carol" they have pretty much presented exclusively a very white Christmas. Therefore I was quite intrigued to see a version featuring a largely African American cast.

Cicely Tyson plays the role of Ebenita Scrooge - a cruel and ruthless woman who seems to have given up on everything in her life, save for her vast wealth.

Ten years before, the first person to ever see potential in her; her former boss Maude Marley died suddenly - and it is Christmas Eve upon which Marley decides to give her former employee a visit.

Despite being a contemporary take on the book, this is a surprisingly conventional adaptation, with all of the sets reminiscent of Victorian London and the script clearly informed by the original. It is also the first adaptation in a while in which the ghosts are presented as genuinely frightening, with some inventively spooky effects deployed to capture their sudden, unwelcome appearance.

Cicely Tyson plays her role wonderfully. She completely inhabits the bitter, greedy miser and her transformation is slow but rewarding, with some truly touching moments scattered among historic horrors of the lives of black people in 1960's America.

I was well prepared to give "Ms. Scrooge" a perfect score, until the story began to veer unfortunately towards a somewhat evangelical conclusion; with Scrooge's epiphany and redemption being more about saving her soul than it is about saving the lives of those around her, particularly Tiny Tim.

The heavy handed religious overtones left something of a bad taste in my mouth as I've always seen "A Christmas Carol" being a secular tale of Christmas (or to quote Danielle Chase from "My So-Called Life", "Do we have to talk about religion? It's Christmas!")

Still, the performances are solid and the film is made with care and precision and Scrooge's shutter flinging Christmas morning has a sense of real beauty about it.

Depending on your tolerance for a certain strain of fire and brimstone preaching, this is flawed, festive fun.

As dense and rich as a Christmas cake.

"Ms. Scrooge." (1997)  4/5

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