The Man Who Invented Christmas

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"According to the Ghost of Christmas Future, we have about 150 more years of books being given as gifts."

“Invented” is a rather melodramatic overstatement, but “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is an affable and gentle holiday biopic, perfect for a matinee with visiting relatives who need something to shut them up for a couple hours.

The man in question is Charles Dickens, who capitalized on Victorian England’s burgeoning re-interest in Christmas (it had fallen to “minor holiday” status) by writing “A Christmas Carol,” which in turn made the holiday more popular, which fueled more sales of “A Christmas Carol,” and so forth. The film covers the two months in 1843 in which Dickens wrote the book, and the condition in which he wrote it: panic.

As presented in Susan Coyne’s mostly historically faithful screenplay, the kind-hearted and charismatic Dickens (Dan Stevens) has little time to produce a novel that he desperately needs to be a success (his last three were flops), and he’s having trouble working the story out. He interacts with his imagined characters (including a fine Christopher Plummer as Scrooge), a narrative device that is less precious than it could have been, though the movie does delight overmuch in showing Dickens stumbling across familiar-to-us details that will make their way into the book (a ghostly waiter named Marley, that sort of thing).

Stevens cuts loose as Dickens, a theatrical fellow who does funny voices for his adoring children, and finds depth in his flaws, notably his disdain for his embarrassing father (Jonathan Pryce). Dickens’ heart bleeds for the poor and disadvantaged, yet his compassion seems not to extend to dear old Dad, a mischief-maker who sells his son’s autographs for money. Without overselling it, director Bharat Nalluri (“Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”) underscores Dickens’ own Scrooge-like need for redemption (albeit on a much smaller scale), and delivers a warm, hearty yuletide tale in the process.

B (1 hr., 44 min.; PG, mild humbuggery.)