28 June 2023


Colin Fleming, Scrooge. Liverpool University Press (Devil's Advocates) 2021.

Anyone expecting a dispassionate review of the 1951 film Scrooge directed by Brian Desmond Hurst and of course starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge and Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley will find the opposite. Fleming's review is a personal homage to the film but also it is very much more than that. It is a personal confession of the importance the film has played in his life. 
This process began when, as an adopted orphan in Canada, he found himself alone at night at home aged eight watching the masterpiece. Fleming, had not only suffered the trauma of being uprooted from England and deported to Canada for his adoption but also had recently undergone the trauma of seeing his two adopted but unrelated 'sisters' returned to their natural parents. In the context of this highly vulnerable state, he was both terrified and pacified by his viewing of the film. For this reason his take on the film must be entirely different to most other people's and one can only therefore expect an idiosyncratic review.

For this reason one must forgive him for claiming that Scrooge is the greatest horror film ever made. Can one even say that it is a horror film? It is true to say that elements of the film involve horror but surely the essential guts of the film is as a Dickensian morality tale in which elements of horror are intertwined with Dicken's almost biblical attack on avarice. Horror is used in pursuit of this end by driving home his crusade against poverty and the other ills of Victorian society in the most visceral way possible. Of all the books written by Dickens A Christmas Carol is the one in my mind most clearly focused on this crusade. But in Fleming's review of this aspect of the book and hence the film, this is hardly given a mention.

On the other hand one must agree of course that the film is a masterpiece, and Fleming is right on track when he analyses how the film became that masterpiece. His explanation of the careers of Sim and Hordern are both entertaining and insightful, and quite correctly give almost equal weight to the magnitude of Hordern's performance. The film is placed within the context of the career of the director Brian Desmond Hurst, concluding that the film is a one-off of genius in an otherwise decent career. Most interesting to me was Fleming's analysis of the importance of the screenplay by Noel Langley, who was unafraid to chop Dickens up when it suited him. 

Although Hurst was an Englishman he worked in Hollywood notably on the screenplay for the Wizard of Oz. But whereas a lot of Hollywood screenplays distort books made into films, Langley's changes were brilliant, and I agree with Fleming that Dickens would surely have approved. For example Fleming points out that the scene of the death of the sister in childbirth is entirely Langley's invention. When one adds in the music score composed by Richard Addinsell, one begins to comprehend why the film turned out to be such a masterpiece. As Fleming says, 'in the composer, writer and director we have a Dream Team' (p. 93). With two of the finest English actors of their generation as leads, we can begin to see why the film turned out to be something special.
  • Robin Carlile

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