Much like the recent Goodbye Christopher RobinProfessor Marston and the Wonder WomenSaving Mr. Banks, or the originator of the genre, Shakespeare in LoveThe Man Who Invented Christmas is a meta story. It’s the story of the story. Instead of re-telling A Christmas Carol for the umpteenth time, the film focuses on how Charles Dickens wrote the defining holiday classic in a feverish six week period, defying expectations and changing how future generations would view the yuletide season as a whole. It was adapted for film by Susan Coyne from Les Standiford’s non-fiction book of the same name much in the same spirit–fast and just in time for the holidays.

On the heels of a few literary flops, and feeling increasingly suffocated by debt from his growing family, spendthrift father, and lavish lifestyle, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) needs a win. He is suddenly struck with the idea for a Christmas story, one that will point an accusing finger at the unforgiving upper class of London. There’s a problem, though: his publishers don’t get it. Christmas in Victorian England was a lesser holiday hardly observed, and in any case, they don’t think he’d be able to get it done in a month and a half. They can’t have another risky investment. Fortunately for readers, Dickens isn’t deterred; in a move that will either make or break him, he sets out to fund the whole thing himself and to get it to stores by Christmas.

The writing process of the Willy Wonka-esque tormented genius is colorful to say the least. He is inspired by the goings-on around him, different people he meets and places he goes (a young Irish nanny in his household becomes the muse for his ghost of Christmas past; his ailing nephew who walks with a crutch is Tiny Tim; etc.), and he speaks these characters right into existence. Literally. “Scrooge!” Dickens exclaims with his fingers curled, snarling and sniffing at the air, and the infamous black-clad miser is conjured up on the spot. The characters Dickens brings forth don’t do his bidding, however. Like the ghosts of Christmas themselves, his characters haunt him with strong opinions of their own. Scrooge, played brilliantly by Christopher Plummer, gets in more than a few snide jabs at the author’s expense.

Writing the book isn’t just a beat-the-clock challenge though, it ends up being a mechanism that forces Dickens to examine his own life. He finds in some ways he mirrors Scrooge and realizes similarly that he must confront the ghosts of his own past in order to have any hope of a bright future with his loved ones. Can he both forgive and be forgiven? Is there redemption for Dickens like there is for Scrooge? Does his story get a happy ending? You’ll have to watch to find out.

The costumes and set pieces in this film are gorgeous. You can smell the cinammony reds, taste the honey-colored walls. You can feel the velvet cushions of London’s wealthy and sooty hands of its poor. Oh and you’ll get lost in Dan Stevens’ otherworldly blue eyes while you’re at it (God bless us every one). Overall, director Bharat Nalluri creates a lush world that just feels Christmas-y.

For this reason and more we should surely praise Nalluri. It’s difficult to do a holiday movie right. Every year studios crank out dozens of them and they tend to be made for TV schmaltz fests, most filled with force-fed morals and talking dogs that have to make it home by Christmas some way somehow! Or, of course, they’re the anti-Christmas Christmas movie:  the wild holiday party in Vegas with a stripper Santa, the brutal slasher who says lines like “I’m going to deck the halls…with your severed heads!” Basically, finding a good one is like finding a diamond-encrusted Christmas ornament in the rough—rare. Luckily for us though, The Man Who Invented Christmas is that rare film.

If you’re ready to see a movie that is heartwarming, whimsical, and downright jolly, The Man Who Invented Christmas opens in theaters November 22nd. And if you’re not in the spirit by now, well, bah humbug!

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