A CHRISTMAS CAROL. With Vinette Robinson, Andy Serkis, Stephen Graham, Jason Flemyng and Guy Pierce as Ebenezer Scrooge. BBC One.

A Christmas Carol on BBC One: Review

MEGAN FURNISS reviews

If you are going to tackle a well-known, much loved story you need to give it a fresh take. From the very first shot – of a scarred teenager pissing on Jacob Marley’s tombstone – you know that this mini-series based on A Christmas Carol is going to be dark and twisty. And it is.

Jacob Marley, with coins on his eyes, is disturbed in his grave, and a deal is struck with him by the spirits, that if he can get his unrepentantly hard-hearted and still-alive business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge, to repent and acknowledge he has feelings, he will be granted eternal rest.

I started feeling teary halfway into this three-part series that I watched in one go, and by the end I was wiping the tears with the back of my hand and sniffing loudly. I had heard nothing about it until I watched it, and have just seen some of the reviews, most of which were pretty bad, yet I loved this compelling, dark, relatively unsentimental, very Dickensian version, with stand-out performances by Guy Pierce and Vinette Robinson as Mary Cratchit.

A Christmas Carol on BBC One: Review

Flame and snow

Yes, big budget has been thrown at this version, but it works. The grim London setting of the 1840s is gloomy, wintery and brilliantly lit. The spirit world is full of flame and snow.

The styling portrays successfully the massive contrast between poor and rich, and I felt the world Dickens was writing about more acutely than the usual Disneyfied versions we are accustomed to.

Here Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserable yet complex man, who is more bitter than evil, more closed than just cruel. The portrayal (a slight deviation from the usual) of his history and what drove him to become the unfeeling and opportunistic capitalist criminal he is, is revealing, but it is the struggles of the Cratchits that contrast so strikingly with him and make the story tragic and even more devastating.

While I watched I thought about the last UK election and how relevant this version of A Christmas Carol is. The story has a modern ring to it, with the NHS under strain and threat, and British society torn and separated by the haves and have nots.

The warnings are all over this tale of pain, family, personal history, greed, and ultimately the small triumphs of humanity over those that defy feelings of love and kindness. I am convinced that this version is as close to what Dickens intended as ever. It’s not fun, but it is fabulously dark, moving and credible.

What: A Christmas Carol

Where: BBC1

WS