For 176 years, Ebenezer Scrooge has been grumping, grumbling and bah-humbugging.
Dead-serious actors — Patrick Stewart, George C. Scott, Alastair Sim, Reginald Owen – have played him. Albert Finney and Kelsey Grammer have sung him. His story has been done by the Muppets. the Smurfs, Jim Carrey and more.
Now a new “Christmas Carol: (shown here with Andy Serkis and Guy Pearce) arrives Thursday (Dec. 19) on FX, rerunning often. “It is slightly darker and more twisted than previous versions,” said Joe Alwyn, who plays Bob Cratchit.
Or maybe much darker and MUCH longer. Consider:
– “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” and “Smurf Christmas Carol” are 30 minutes, counting commercials. This one was planned as a three-night mini-series, then switched to a 3 hours, 15 minute film.
– Mickey and the Smurfs hardly ever mentioned sexual abuse. This version does. There’s nothing explicit, but we see Scrooge as both a childhood victim and an adult predator.
That fits into one of the goals, said scriptwriter Steven Knight – asking key questions. “The main one is … ‘Why is Scrooge like this?’”
There’s no softening here. If anything, this is the meanest, scroogiest Ebenezer yet.
But now he has a bit of a back story. And unlike many previous Scrooges, he isn’t a craggy, creepy old man. “His soul is pretty wretched,” Knight said. “But on the outside, he’s OK.”
Or better than OK. He’s played by Pearce, a handsome chap. This Scrooge, Pearce said, “has some swagger and actually is a powerful businessman.”
Sure, he works out of a tiny office, seemingly with only one employee. But from that spot, he and his late partner Marley bought companies and crunched workers. That gives a slightly modern theme to a story that’s been around forever. “It’s part of our culture,” Knight said. “It’s a part of Christmas.”
Still, it may have had less of an impact on younger generations. “It wasn’t … part of my culture growing up,” said Alwyn, 28. At best, he said, he’s “seen snippets here and there.”
By comparison, there’s Serkis, 55. “I always read ‘A Christmas Carol’ as a child,” he said. “I remember vividly hanging on every word, (savoring) the imagery and kind of the supernatural meets the real world.”
Now he’s part of that imagery, playing the spirit of Christmas Past.
Serkis is used to facing demanding duties. He’s portrayed creatures and others in the “Lord of the Rings,” “Hobbit,” “King Kong” and “Planet of the Apes” films.
For most of those, he was filmed by a motion-capture cameras. This is done the traditional way.
“I was wearing prosthetic make-up,” Sirkis said, “and had scars and an eye that is dead on one side …. And I was wearing a costume that weighed about 250 pounds.”
At first, he said, it took 2 ½ to three hours to have the make-up applied and just as long to take it off.
Yes, three hours in a make-up chair can be exhausting. But sois three-plus hours in your living room for TV viewers, taking a deep and depressing dive into the world of a foul-spirited businessman.
“Christmas Carol” everywhere
– New one, on FX: 7:30 to 10:45 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 19).X. Repeats at 7:30 and 10:45 p.m. Sunday, then 8 p.m. Christmas Eve and 4 p.m. Christmas Day.
– “The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol,” on Nickelodeon: 2 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. Christmas Eve.
– “Muppets Christmas Carol” (1992, with Michael Caine as Scrooge) on Disney XD: 10 a.m. Christmas Eve; 5 p.m. Christmas Day.
– Also: Turner Classic Movies has a 1938 film, with Reginald Owen as Scrooge, at 9 p.m. Christmas Eve; The Fox Movie Channel has a 1951 film with Alastair Sim. On Christmas Eve, it’s 3:50, 5:40, 7:30. 9:20 and 11:10 p.m. On Christmas Day, it’s noon, 1:50, 3:40, 5:30, 7:20 and 9:10 p.m.