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A Christmas Carol (1984)

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A Christmas Carol is a critically acclaimed 1984 television movie adaptation of Charles Dickens' famous 1843 story of the same name. It was directed by Clive Donner (who had been an editor on an earlier film version of the same story, 1951's Scrooge) and starred George C. Scott in an acclaimed performance as Ebenezer Scrooge.

It was distributed by Entertainment Partners for CBS. As of 2010, rights are held by 20th Century Fox.


After a brief opening with the funeral of Jacob Marley, the film shifts forward to seven years later, on Christmas Eve in 1843. Ebenezer Scrooge scolds his clerk, Bob Cratchit, after catching him trying to get coal for the fire as it is cold in the office. Fred Hollywell, Scrooge's nephew, comes to visit and invites him to Christmas dinner, but Scrooge rudely refuses, claiming Christmas is "humbug". Before leaving to visit the Royal Stock Exchange, Scrooge gives Bob the day off with pay, but warns him to come in earlier the next day. Scrooge then meets Bob's youngest son, Tiny Tim, a naive and very sick boy who walks with a crutch. Scrooge mumbles to him he'll have a long wait for his father before leaving. At the Exchange, Scrooge charges some other businessmen 5% extra for corn because they failed to meet his demands the day before, much to their dismay. They soon agree to pay extra for the corn, much to the delight of Scrooge. Scrooge then refuses to give a donation to two other men, Mr. Poole and Mr. Harking, for the poor supporting the prisons and poor houses.

When Scrooge arrives home that night, he finds himself being tormented by the ghost of his dead partner, Marley, such as a funeral hearse passing him, Marley's face appearing on the knocker, appearing on the fireplace tiles, and making bells ring. Finally, Marley himself appears, looking the same as he did when he was alive, except he is now weighted down by heavy chains. Marley explains that he wears the chain he "forged in life" due to his cruel and selfish attitude towards others, and warns Scrooge that he is on the abyss of suffering the same fate. He tells him that he will be haunted by three more spirits, with the first one to arrive when the bell tolls "one."

As Marley warned, the first of the spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, haunts Scrooge and shows him his long forgotten past. Scrooge witnesses the time he spent the holidays alone at school with only his books for company. Scrooge mentions it was due to his mother's death after he had been born, causing his father to disown and turn against him. Fan, Scrooge's beloved younger sister and Fred's mother, picks him up from school claiming their father, Silas, has "changed", but it turns out Silas still loathes his son and sends him to work for Fezziwig in three days time. Scrooge reveals that Fan died giving birth to Fred, and he treats Fred with the same contempt his father treated him. Scrooge is then shown when he worked as an apprentice for Fezziwig and fell in love with Belle, to whom he became engaged. However, Scrooge's obsession with money continues to grow, and thus he began to take Belle for granted. After realizing that Scrooge no longer cares for her as much as he used to, Belle ends their engagement. Scrooge is then shown that Belle is married and is now a mother to several children. Unable to see any more memories, Scrooge "puts out" the spirit with its own cap.

The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, shows Scrooge how others celebrate Christmas. Scrooge sees just how poor Bob and his family really are, as they can only afford a small goose and pudding for their Christmas dinner. Bob then raises a toast to Scrooge, much to the disagreement of his wife. The spirit also hints that Tiny Tim will die of his illness if the shadows of the future don't change, and then scolds Scrooge for his opinion about the surplus population. Scrooge and the spirit then witness Fred having a party with his wife Janet and friends before witnessing a poor family who are homeless and sitting in the cold eating scraps. After showing him two children called Ignorance and Want, the spirit abandons Scrooge.

Moments later, the final specter, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, shows Scrooge what will happen the following Christmas if he does not repent. They witness the same men who asked Scrooge for corn, talking about a man who just died and will only attend the funeral for a free lunch. Scrooge then sees the same dead man on a bed, who has now been robbed by an old hag who gives the stolen things to a fence named Old Joe. Scrooge discovers Tim has lost his fight with his unknown illness with his family mourning him. Scrooge then discovers that he himself was the man who died and got robbed after seeing his abandoned gravestone. Scrooge tells the spirit he will repent and is not the man he was and asks to rid of the writing on the gravestone. Scrooge then magically returns to his room and discovers he has a chance to put things right as a changed man.

In the morning, Scrooge, upon learning it is Christmas Day, orders a boy to bring the poulterer to his home with a prized turkey. The boy does so and Scrooge orders the poulterer to deliver the turkey to Bob and his family. Scrooge then meets the charity workers, and promises an undisclosed (but apparently impressive) donation to their cause. Scrooge then shows up at Fred's home and apologizes for what he said about Christmas yesterday. He then accepts Fred's invitation to dinner much to Fred's joy. The following day, Bob arrives late for work and Scrooge, initially pretending to be cross, increases Bob's wages and promises to help his family in every way possible. The film then ends with Fred claiming that his maternal uncle did everything he promised and became like a second father figure to Tim, who survived his illness, as Scrooge finally discovered the true meaning of Christmas.

Production notes

  • Filming was done on location in Shrewsbury, England. It originally aired on CBS on December 17, 1984 in the United States (sponsored by IBM), but was released theatrically in Great Britain.
  • Scott was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special for his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in this production.
  • Liz Smith, who plays Mrs. Dilber in this production, also played the same role in the 1999 version starring Patrick Stewart.
  • Two of Susannah York's real-life children portrayed two of the Cratchit kids.
  • This is perhaps the only version of A Christmas Carol in which Scrooge wears dress-slacks, a dress-shirt and a vest and a smoking jacket instead of the traditional wardrobe of a nightgown, slippers and cap. Sources have reported that George C. Scott openly reeled at the very thought of portraying Scrooge under such conditions, especially in mid-winter England.

Differences from the book

  • Fred is given the surname Hollywell, and his wife is named Janet.
  • Scrooge encounters the charity workers during his stop at the Royal Stock Exchange on his way home from work, rather than them showing up at his office.
  • Ebenezer Scrooge's father, who was mentioned in the book but never actually seen, makes an onscreen appearance in this version.
  • In the rag and bottle shop scene, the undertaker and the charwoman are omitted, leaving only Mrs. Dilber to sell Scrooge's curtains and other stolen belongings to Old Joe.

Broadcast history and availability

ChristmasCarol1984 Bluray

The cover to the Blu-ray release.

The movie has run in syndication on local American channels since it debuted in 1984, earning a loyal fanbase. However, due to George C. Scott himself (and later his estate through Baxter Healthcare, to whom the Scott family donated their copyright) owned the film itself, it was not released to VHS until 1995. It was released on DVD by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment on October 5, 1999. The DVD was reissued with new cover art in 2009, and a Blu-ray released followed on November 9, 2010.

On November 25, 2007, the movie returned to national television for the first time since its debut, appearing on AMC and earning a rare 4/4 star rating from the network. The network ran the movie throughout the Christmas season until Hallmark Channel obtained the rights in 2009. It is scheduled to air on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries in 2014.


Voice actor Character
George C. Scott Ebenezer Scrooge
Frank Finlay Jacob Marley
Angela Pleasence Ghost of Christmas Past
Edward Woodward Ghost of Christmas Present
Michael Carter Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
David Warner Bob Cratchit
Susannah York Mrs. Cratchit
Roger Rees Fred Hollywell
Caroline Langrishe Janet Hollywell
Lucy Gutteridge Belle
Nigel Davenport Silas Scrooge (Ebenezer and Fan's father)
Mark Strickson Young Ebenezer Scrooge
Joanne Whalley Fan Scrooge-Hollywell
Timothy Bateson Mr. Fezziwig
Michael Gough Mr. Poole
John Quarmby Mr. Harking
Peter Woodthorpe Old Joe
Liz Smith Mrs. Dilber
Kieran Hughes Peter Cratchit
Dennis Morgan Village gentleman

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