A Christmas Carol (Starring Simon Callow) – Review
There’s nothing better to get you in the festive spirit than a good Christmas story, and A Christmas Carol is among the best. I’ve only really become interested in this Dickens classic in the past few years, and it all started when I listened to an audiobook dramatisation of it from Audible.
I knew the story – I think everyone knows the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge and the various ghosts that visit him at Christmas – but it this was the first time I’d listened to the whole story properly, and I adored it. I think I’m now going to make it a tradition each year before Christmas to go back to A Christmas Carol in its various forms, whether that’s the book, the incredible audiobook, or a screen adaptation.
That’s what this post is going to be about. Last week, I went to see a BBC Films adaptation of A Christmas Carol at my local cinema. This version stars Simon Callow – and that’s it. It’s just him, and I wondered how they’d be able to stage such a magical story filled with ghosts and a whole host of characters using only one actor. But to say I was surprised by how great it was is probably an understatement – I loved it.
Simon Callow enacts the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, the miserly owner of an old counting house, who is visited by the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley, on Christmas Eve. Marley warns Scrooge he is doomed in the afterlife unless he pays heed and learns from three ghosts who will visit him during the night. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come show Scrooge how his mean, uncaring behaviour has oppressed those around him as they visit important moments from his past, his present and his future life. By the end, Scrooge is humbled and redeemed and transforms into a generous, kind-hearted man who promises to keep the spirit of Christmas in his heart, not just at Christmas, but all year round.
The whole performance takes place in a dilapidated old building that looks like it used to be a block of offices or something similar. The rooms are hauntingly empty except for various bits of furniture, including a whole host of different chairs that Callow uses as props to tell the story. Callow narrates the story as if reading the book, but at the same time, plays characters and enacts the conversations between them. It’s verging on magical how he manages to jump between two or more characters and their dialogue, sets the scene, and moves around this old building without losing both the charm or the harshness of Dickens’ story. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen and I didn’t want it to end.
It’s not only Callow walking around and telling the story, though. There are all sorts of sound effects to help tell the story, like slamming doors, bells, talking and laughing, and music to set the scene. It’s easy to forget that it’s just Callow there on his own and there aren’t others in the background, because the whole soundscape makes it sound so lively and almost like there’s a full cast waiting to emerge from the sidelines.
This is one of those films that’s so hard to describe and put into words, and you definitely need to see it to get the full effect. Lucky for you, the whole film is available online, which I’ve only just found out tonight! That’s so cool – I’m definitely going to be watching it again. I might tuck myself into bed on Christmas Eve and watch it then.
I’m so glad I saw it on the big screen in the cinema because it was so magical, and we got to see an introduction from Simon Callow himself talking about his love for the story and the importance of its social messages. But if you want to watch it yourself (which I highly recommend you do), you can watch it on the BBC website.*
⭐ Charlotte ⭐
*(Unfortunately, I’m not sure if this will work if you’re outside of the UK.)