Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol brings to mind miserly old men, ghosts, and poor, cripple children – but it also fills one’s heart with the wonderful spirit of Christmas. The Man Who Invented Christmas gives us a look at how Dickens’ created his immortal classic and redefined the holiday.

Based on the non-fiction book of the same name, Dan Stevens plays Dickens, who uses both real-life inspiration and his imagination to write one of his most successful novels. The film also delves into Dickens strained relationship with his father (Jonathan Pryce), a dreamer who once left his family destitute and forced a young Charles to work in a shoe blacking factory. It also stars Christopher Plummer as Dickens’ make-believe muse, Ebeneezer Scrooge.

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ScreenPicks had a lovely chat with The Man Who Invented Christmas director Bharat Nalluri (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) about the importance of Dickens’ work, how the title is actually true and more!

I love these kinds of movies – you have such an established classic, and you see how the creator created it, an inside look. Is that what drew you to the project?

Bharat Nalluri: Yeah, I mean it’s a combination of things. Firstly, I’m a huge fan of Christmas Carol, so it was a lovely way of kind of look at Christmas Carol from the author’s point of view, from the person who actually wrote it, and how in the creative process he kind of reinvents himself and invents this amazing book that changed the world. For me, it was Susan Coyne’s gorgeous script, funny and humorous and full of pathos and very moving. It’s a combination of those things that drew me to it.

What was your first recollection of a A Christmas Carol when you were a kid? Was it read to you?

Nalluri: That’s a good question. It’s quite an important book to me because I was born in a family that really didn’t celebrate Christmas, and I was surrounded in the north of England where a bunch of people who did. I couldn’t quite believe what fun they were having at Christmas. I wanted to understand what it was all about, and I read the book and it kind of did invent Christmas. I mean the Christmas Carol, it gave me the reason, and I suddenly realized why people enjoyed it. The fact that it was all about family and redemption and all those elements kind of made it grow over the years. But at the beginning, it’s a really fun, joyous, mad story full of pathos that had this time traveling old guy who goes back and reinvents himself, which for an 11-year old kid was just fantastic. And as I’ve read it over the years, I’ve kind of got more and more into what Dickens maybe was trying to say with it all.

The title itself you think, “Oh of course, Dickens and Christmas Carol, it definitely brings up the idea of Christmas,” but he literally did invent Christmas because it wasn’t really that big of a deal, is that correct?

Nalluri: It wasn’t at all. No one was really celebrating to any great extent, it was kind of a forgotten holiday. The genius of him is that he gives you this surface Christmas, the Christmas trees, and the postcards, and the mulled wine and the blind man’s buff, and the parties, and the snow falling. All that stuff we now think of Christmas, boring family things, roaring fires and family. But his genius was really to reinvent Christmas, remind and intrigue people to what the values were, those human values underneath it all, and that’s the joy of it. I think the reason why the book continues to stay in print and has sold millions around the world.

Dan Stevens did a tremendous job as Dickens, but I think the thing that I love the most is that he collected names from people. That was true?

Nalluri: That’s all based on fact. That was the great thing, the historical validity. He would go on these whirlwind 25-mile long walks and get into lots of scrapes and adventures and then kind of collect names on the way, and stories and ideas and come back and write into the night. That’s something about Dickens that not a lot of people know; he was a ball of energy and fire. We’re used to this bearded, grumpy, sticky 55-year old Dickens and this is — he was a rock star. He was 31, trying to work out where he was. He’d written Oliver Twist and a couple of other books, but he’s on his difficult fourth album now and he’s just financially in dire straits. He’s got four kids and he’s got a fifth one coming and he wants to change the world somehow and say something. I think that’s the really interesting thing that Dan tapped into that kind of huge energy and vibrancy and kind of manic-ness. It was very different take on Dickens and I think it worked really well for us.

Christopher Plummer, too, was amazing. I mean, I think he’s played Scrooge before right? I can’t remember–

Nalluri: No, that’s the thing. That’s the amazing thing. He has never played him. I asked him to play Scrooge and he says, “You know, I’ve never played Scrooge before.” That’s a surprise. Now he feels like iconically kind of belongs to the role, doesn’t he so? Absolutely a joy having him on set. He turn 87 on our set, and he’s like the naughtiest little boy. He just loves being on set and that’s why he keeps working. You see the gleam in his eye when the camera roles he’s just incredibly generous and so good with Dan, the chemistry between them is so strong. Now he’s kind of made the role his own.

Growing up in England, what is it about Dickens that is so timely? What’s the love for Dickens, where do you think it comes from?

Nalluri: He talks about institutions and things that are still relevant to us, you know. He walked the streets that we walk through. We recognize the names and also recognize the characters. A lot of the characters have become kind of folk lore and in literature, many of people have kind of borrowed from him. I think we hop back to a time when we’re with families around a roaring fire.

There’s something about it that’s quintessentially British, and I don’t know what he captures about it, and I suspect he’s the guy who invented it, quintessentially British and Christmas, and in a weird sort of way it’s just part of us, culturally. We all read his books at school, much like you do in America, we all know him culturally and I think it’s just things have gone past just books, his crazes and the laws and acts. He feels like Shakespeare really in the sense that he’s bypassed his books and gone into the vernacular. We don’t even know its Dickens, really, and I think that’s what it is. And when you’re reminded of it, you go, “Goodness me, oh yeah I see, this is Charles, got it.” I think in that sense, he’s kind of revered and much loved without people even realizing.

I’ve always equated Dickens with Mark Twain for us in America.

Nalluri: Absolutely, I think Twain is as American as an American can be. When I read Twain, that’s how I imagined America, what it stands for and I think that’s a really good example, that’s exactly what it is.

What something about Dickens that you found out in your research and in doing this film that sort of surprised you?

Nalluri: It was actually interesting. It was the first time I focused into this very specific period of his life, where he was a man on a mission but he didn’t know what the mission was. I would read about Dickens, the complete man, that was having other problems in his life and the likes and he’d written his books and the rest of it. This is someone finding out about himself and it was just really lovely to research a little area of his life where he was very human. He was like the rest of us, he’s just trying to work out what he was. Whether it was inspiration that fueled him or naivety or madness, it’s just a lovely little human moment in his lifetime. I think that’s what I discovered in this little journey, a quite different Dickens than one I was expecting.

The delightful The Man Who Invented Christmas opens in theaters November 22.

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