Our Favourite 'Carol'
Today marks 175 years since Charles Dickens released a little novella for the Christmas book market titled A Christmas Carol. Lauded by the critics and the public, its initial print run of six thousand copies sold out in just five days and it has not been out of print since then.
A good indicator of the Carol’s enduring popularity is the countless adaptations in print, on stage and screen. These range from plays (the first came out a month after the book was released), to ballets, radio dramas, films, operas and there was even a mime version in New York City in 1878. We have been promised a new feature film for Christmas 2019 with rapper-turned actor, Ice Cube as Scrooge in a Netflix production, Humbug.
Dickens himself was incredibly successful in adapting his own work. He edited the Carol especially for his reading tours which proved to be one of his most popular pieces.
An advertisement for Charles Dickens’s reading tour at the Town Hall, Oxford, 1858. Charles Dickens Museum collection, London.
Year on year we are asked what is the best adaptation of A Christmas Carol. For this auspicious anniversary, we posed this question to the Museum’s five academic advisors. All Dickens specialists, they advise us on a range of matters from collections development to exhibitions and also help us respond to the more tricky public enquires.
The first vote is cast by Dr Peter Orford for A Muppets Christmas Carol (1992)
‘Without question, it's The Muppets Christmas Carol. While talking frogs and pigs might not promise the most faithful adaptation, Kermit and Co capture a joy and energy that is often missed in traditional adaptations. Plus of course, Gonzo the Great delivers the definitive portrayal of Dickens.’
He is seconded by Professor Juliet John:
‘My favourite is definitely A Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s warm, funny and very clever about cultural attitudes – the only Carol adaptation I know of to include a cheeky and surreal reference to Bob Marley (Jacob’s made-up brother Robert).’
The Muppets Christmas Carol is a popular show for theatres at Christmas time. The Prince Charles off Leicester Square has screenings right up to the 24th December, including a special sing-along version. Image Credit: The Prince Charles Cinema, London.
Moving from the screen to the stage, Professor Jenny Hartley nominates Simon Callow’s stage production.
‘My favourite adaptation by far is Simon Callow’s one-man stage version. Dickens himself performed it many times, and here is as close as we can get to being part of that experience, done brilliantly by someone who seems to have Dickens in his veins.’
For Christmas 2018, Simon Callow is performing a limited run of his sell out show A Christmas Carol at the Arts Theatre on Newport Street, London. A filmed version of the production is also available on BBC iPlayer Image credit: Arts Theatre, London.
Dr Tony Williams takes us back to the silver screen:
‘I always look forward to re-watching the 1951 United Artists film version of A Christmas Carol called Scrooge, with Alastair Sim's outstanding performance in the title role. It has to be the original black and white version, though, not the later colorised one, since this successfully captures the darkness in the work as well as the joy and comedy of Scrooge's redemption.’
Lastly, Professor Michael Slater like Williams, also praises Alistair Sim’s Scrooge, but has very recently been won over by Callow’s one-man show.
‘My favourite adaptation has always been the 1950s UK film with Alistair Sim since he was the perfect embodiment of Scrooge in both his miserly and his benevolent manifestations. Simon Callow’s one-man BBC film of the Carol shown on BB4 last night is utterly different but so brilliant and original in both conception and execution that I would now say this was my favourite.’
Whilst our five specialists feel these three adaptations are top contenders for the best Carol, this Christmas you are not short of options when it comes to seeing new versions of the beloved little story, and judging for yourselves. As well as countless options at cinemas, theatres and on television, we have several performances scheduled here at the Museum. Will any of them change your answer to the question, What is your favourite Carol?
A little more about our academic advisors
Dr Peter Orford is Lecturer in the Department of English at University of Buckingham and co-directs Buckingham’s MA Dickens studies by Research programme which is run in partnership with the Museum. He is the author of The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Charles Dickens' Unfinished Novel and Our Endless Attempts to End It (Pen & Sword, 2018) and is currently editing Pictures from Italy for the Clarendon Dickens series (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
Professor Juliet John is the Head of English at Royal Holloway, University of London and Hildred Carlile Chair of English Literature. She has edited numerous Dickens and nineteenth century specialist publications and is the author of Dickens's Villains : Melodrama, Character, Popular Culture (Oxford University Press, 2003). and Dickens and Mass Culture (Oxford University Press, 2010). She also supervises two PhD students who are based at the Charles Dickens Museum, researching Dickens and the Heritage Industry.
Jenny Hartley is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Roehampton and the author of Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women (Methuen, 2008) and Charles Dickens: an Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2017). She was President of The International Dickens Fellowship between 2013-2015 and edited The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens (OUP, 2012).
Dr Tony Williams was President of The International Dickens Fellowship between 2015-2017 and is now the Associate Editor of the Fellowship's journal, The Dickensian. He is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Humanities at the University of Buckingham.
Michael Slater, MBE is Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature at Birkbeck, University of London and a patron of the Charles Dickens Museum. He is past president of the International Fellowship and of the Dickens Society of America. His publications include Dickens and Women (Stanford University Press, 1983) and Charles Dickens (Yale University Press, 2009) and The Great Charles Dickens Scandal (Yale University Press, 2012).
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