A Christmas Carol (1984 film)

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A Christmas Carol
Home video cover
Based onA Christmas Carol
1843 novel
by Charles Dickens
Screenplay byRoger O. Hirson
Directed byClive Donner
StarringGeorge C. Scott
Frank Finlay
David Warner
Susannah York
Edward Woodward
Roger Rees
Music byNick Bicât
Country of originUnited Kingdom
United States
Original language(s)English
Executive producer(s)Robert E. Fuisz
Producer(s)George F. Storke
Alfred R. Kelman
Production location(s)Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England
CinematographyTony Imi
Editor(s)Peter Tanner
Running time100 minutes
Production company(s)Entertainment Partners Ltd.
Distributor20th Television
Original networkCBS
Picture formatColor
Audio formatDolby Stereo
Original release
  • 17 December 1984 (1984-12-17)

A Christmas Carol is a 1984 British-American made-for-television film adaptation of Charles Dickens' famous 1843 novella of the same name. The film is directed by Clive Donner, who had been an editor of the 1951 film Scrooge, and stars George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge. It was filmed in the historic medieval county town of Shrewsbury in Shropshire.[1]


On Christmas Eve in 1843 London, Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly money-lender at a local counting house, does not share the merriment of Christmas. Scrooge declines his nephew Fred Hollywell's invitation for Christmas dinner and reluctantly accepts his loyal employee Bob Cratchit's request to have Christmas off since there will be no business for Scrooge during the day. As he leaves for the Royal Stock Exchange, Scrooge encounters Bob's ill son Tiny Tim waiting across from Scrooge's office. After initially mistaking Tim for a beggar, Scrooge assures him that he will have a long wait for his father in the cold before leaving.

In the stock exchange, Scrooge is greeted by three other businessmen who wish to purchase some corn; they had delayed in concluding the deal, apparently in hopes that Scrooge would lower his price. To their dismay, however, Scrooge informs them that the price has gone up 5% because of the delay, and unless they come to an agreement, the price would go up another 5% the next day. Before leaving, Scrooge informs them that he will not ship without the cash in hand. After being approached by two gentlemen collecting money for charity, Mr. Poole and Mr. Hacking, Scrooge turns down their request. In his house, Scrooge encounters the ghost of his deceased business partner Jacob Marley, who warns him to repent his wicked ways or he will be condemned to the same afterlife as his, carrying heavy chains forged from his own greedy ways. He informs Scrooge that three spirits will visit him for that night.

At one o'clock, the childlike Ghost of Christmas Past visits Scrooge and takes him back in time to his childhood and early adult life. They visit Scrooge's time as a boarding school student. He sees his father Silas, who gets him a job with Fezziwig, and his sister Fan, who has since passed away. Eventually becoming successful in money lending and business, Scrooge becomes engaged to a woman named Belle. However, the Ghost shows Scrooge how Belle left him when he chose his wealth over her. Finally the spirit shows Scrooge that Belle later married and had many children. Seeing what he had lost at the price of gaining his fortune, a distraught Scrooge puts out the spirit with its cap as he returns to the present.

At two o'clock, Scrooge meets the Ghost of Christmas Present, who shows him the joys and wonder of Christmas Day. Scrooge and the Ghost visit Bob's house, learning his family is surprisingly content with their small dinner. Scrooge takes pity on Tim after the spirit comments that he will not survive until next Christmas. The spirit then takes Scrooge to Fred's house for the Christmas party that Scrooge had earlier declined to attend. Scrooge and the spirit then go to a desolate street where he shows Scrooge two hideous children named Ignorance and Want and warns Scrooge to beware of them before he disappears.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come approaches Scrooge, appearing as a silent, cloaked shadow, and takes him into the future. Scrooge witnesses the businessmen discussing the death of an unnamed colleague where they would only attend the funeral if lunch is provided. Scrooge recognizes several of his stolen possessions being traded to a fence named Old Joe. The spirit transports Scrooge to Bob's residence where he learns Tim had died. Scrooge is then escorted to a cemetery, where the spirit points out his own grave, revealing Scrooge was the man who died. Realizing this, Scrooge vows to change his ways and begs to be spared.

Awakening in his bedroom on Christmas Day, Scrooge finds the ghosts had visited him all in one night. Gleeful at having survived the spirits, Scrooge anonymously sends the Cratchits a large, prize-winning turkey for dinner. He then ventures out into the city to spread happiness among the citizens of London. Scrooge finds the charity workers he encountered before and much to their elation, Scrooge agrees to make a large donation. Scrooge also accepts Fred's Christmas invitation after reconciling with him. The following day, he gives Cratchit a raise and becomes like "a second father" to Tim, who escapes death. A changed man, Scrooge now treats everyone with kindness, generosity, and compassion; he now embodies the spirit of Christmas.


Tombstone from the graveyard scene. To the current day, the stone remains in the graveyard of St Chad's Church, Shrewsbury where the scene was filmed


This movie was filmed on location in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, in the English Midlands. It originally aired on the American television network CBS on 17 December 1984, and was released theatrically in Great Britain. The U.S. debut was sponsored by IBM, which purchased all of the commercial spots for the two-hour premiere. The film brought in a 20.7/30 rating/share, winning its time slot and ranking No. 10 for the week.[2] The film was marketed with the tagline "A new powerful presentation of the most loved ghost story of all time!" Scott was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special for his portrayal of Scrooge.

The movie has run in syndication on local American channels since it debuted in 1984, earning a loyal fanbase, but was not released on VHS until 1989 (in the UK)[3] and to DVD in 1999. This was because Scott himself (and later his estate through Baxter Healthcare, to whom the Scott family donated their copyright) owned the rights to this film. On 25 November 2007, it returned to national television on AMC for the first time since its debut, and the network continues to broadcast it each December under license from the Scott estate and 20th Century Fox (the latter's distribution rights the result of their owning the video rights). In 2009, the Hallmark Channel also ran the movie soon after Thanksgiving. It remains among most beloved of the several adaptations of A Christmas Carol. In 2009, the film was re-released on DVD by Fox, with updated box art but the same menu and features as the previous DVD release. Fox released it on Blu-ray in December 2010.

Differences between book and film[edit]

Although the film was very close to the book, there were a few changes:

  • Scrooge's nephew Fred, whose full name was never given in the book, is surnamed Hollywell. His wife, whose name was also never mentioned in the book, is called Janet. The Blind man's buff game, with Topper cheating, is changed to a game of Similes.
  • Although Marley's ghost initially appears transparent as described in the book, it "solidifies" immediately after. Also, as it makes its exit, although audiences hear moans when Scrooge looks outside from his window, the street is quiet and empty. In the book, he sees a vision of other ghosts in chains like Marley's wandering in torment for being selfish, greedy misers when these people were living.
  • In the novel, Marley says the spirits will appear on three consecutive nights, the first two at one o'clock and the third at midnight. In this version, Marley says the first spirit will appear at one, the second at two, while the third "shall appear in his own good time", which corresponds to Scrooge's later revelation that "the spirits did it all in one night".
  • As in the 1951 film version with Alastair Sim, it is mentioned in a dialogue between Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past that Scrooge's mother died giving birth to him; Ebenezer explains that his father resented him because of this. Fan's appearance and personality suggest that she is younger than Ebenezer but it is not explained how Scrooge can have a younger sister if his mother died giving birth to him, unless Fan is his half-sister, though a stepmother to Scrooge is not seen or mentioned. It is possible that despite her youthful appearance and attitude, Fan is actually the older sibling; however, Scrooge addressing her as "Little Fan" implies she is younger than he is, although it may also refer to her being petite.
  • This is the first version to actually show Scrooge's father (here named Silas Scrooge), a character referred to in the book but never seen. Despite his agreeing to grant Fan's request to let Scrooge come home for Christmas, he makes it quite clear to Ebenezer when he comes personally to pick him up from school that he still wants nothing to do with his son, and plans to ship him off to Mr. Fezziwig's establishment as soon as Christmas is over. Yet, Ebenezer is not disowned completely, as the elder Scrooge did leave him "a small inheritance," which became the foundation of the young man's financial success. Silas's gruff treatment of Fan is not explained.
  • A subplot is added to explain what it was that caused Ebenezer to dedicate his life to the accumulation of money, putting the kindly youth on a path to hard-heartedness. During the visions of the Ghost of Christmas Past, it is shown that young Scrooge believed his lack of a fortune made him unworthy of Belle's attention and that to deserve her he must be able to finance their future together.
  • The period during Scrooge's time with the Ghost of Christmas Present when, in the novel, they roam the world observing the goodness of people in all situations is represented in the movie by a scene featuring an impoverished family surviving under a bridge with London's homeless population, unwilling to separate by abandoning the father and going to the poorhouse.
  • The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come does not speak but is accompanied by an eerie metallic noise that evokes the screech of a cemetery's gate.
  • Scott's Scrooge differs from most portrayals in that not only is he stocky rather than scrawny, he is portrayed as a ruthless businessman rather than an archetypal miser.
  • Another difference from typical portrayals is the dry humor exhibited by Scott's Scrooge. He laughs at his own joke when delivering the "stake of holly through his heart" line. Later, when one of the charity collectors greets him by saying "Mr. Scrooge, I presume", Scrooge replies "Indeed, you do, sir.", slyly implying that the pair are presuming upon him.
  • Scrooge in this version stops at the Royal Stock Exchange on his way home from work, not only giving us a look at how ruthless he is in dealing with his colleagues, but also it is where he encounters the charity collectors rather than at his office.
  • In the rag and bottle shop scene, the undertaker and the charwoman are omitted, leaving only the laundress Mrs. Dilber to sell off the dead Scrooge's bed curtains and other stolen belongings to Old Joe. Liz Smith, who plays Mrs. Dilber here, would reprise the character in the 1999 television film adaptation with Patrick Stewart. The young couple who are relieved that Scrooge has died and that they will be able to pay off their debt to a more lenient creditor, are also not seen.
  • Scrooge does not appear at Fred's house on Christmas Day during dinner and ask to be let in, but rather arrives beforehand to accept the invitation if it still stands, which Fred joyously says it does. Scrooge also asks Fred's pardon for the things he said the day before regarding Christmas.
  • The Charity Gentlemen introduce themselves to Scrooge as Mr. Poole and Mr. Hacking. Their names are not mentioned in the novel.
  • In the opening scene in Scrooge's office, Bob Cratchit mentions that it is the seven year anniversary of the death of Scrooge's partner Jacob Marley. In the novel, it is Scrooge who mentions this fact to the charity gentlemen who come to his office (As opposed to meeting them at the London Exchange as shown in the movie.).
  • In the novel, The Ghost of Christmas Present introduces himself to Scrooge upon their initial meeting. In the movie, the Ghost does not identify himself at all.

Critical response[edit]

Novelist and essayist Louis Bayard, writing for Salon.com, described this adaptation as "the definitive version of a beloved literary classic", praising its fidelity to Dickens' original story, the strength of the supporting cast, and especially Scott's performance as Scrooge.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Shropshire movies: A Christmas Carol in Shrewsbury". BBC. 31 March 2010. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  2. ^ http://www.tvtango.com/listings/1984/12/17/christmas_carol_a
  3. ^ http://www.videocollector.co.uk/christmas-carol-a/13185
  4. ^ Bayard, Louis (24 December 2009). "The best 'Christmas Carol' ever". Salon. Archived from the original on 29 December 2009. Retrieved 25 December 2009.

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