THE question that kept arising watching The Man Who Invented Christmas was: what the Dickens was director Bharat Nalluri thinking?
Based on the non-fiction book by Les Standiford, it starts, if briefly, with a relatively traditional narrative.
The writer Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens from TV’s Downton Abbey, looking like a long-lost sibling of the Fiennes clan) is on an American tour celebrating the literary success of Oliver Twist.
He is the quintessential feted celebrity in a culture that rapturously celebrates success but he appears bewildered and somewhat bemused.
On stage at one of his events, a small confetti explosion brings Dickens to the ground, gawping at the braying crowd.
It’s hard to tell whether this explosion goes off in the mind of Dickens or the director because we fairly quickly transition from Oliver Twist to Round the Twist.
To be sure, time and fortune have intervened, with Dickens enduring a series of flops.
With a large and growing family and a penchant for the finer things in home decor, not to mention warding off a father (Jonathan Pryce) engaged in scams to trade on the Dickens name, the author needs a hit.
He certainly gets a shot of something.
We rapidly move from horse-drawn carriage to mid-19th century psychotropic bus on an Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.
Such are the requirements for inventing Christmas.
And for finding the inspiration to create the Christmas classic A Christmas Carol.
It is this trope that both defines and undermines the strengths of bringing such rich material to life.
The entire creative process is treated as intrinsically intertwined with the life.
Falling out with his publisher and choosing to self-publish within a six-week timeframe in time for Christmas, he ekes inspiration out of all that surrounds him.
Ebenezer Scrooge (an imperious Christopher Plummer) is discovered at a macabre back-alley funeral and his hectoring and menacing spirit infuses the narrative at every turn.
An Irish housemaid (Anna Murphy) is both Dickens’ muse and his amateur folklorist.
All sorts of ghosts and many of Dickens’ own demons inhabit this colourful London grappling with the excesses of the Industrial Revolution, with Stevens giving a frenetic, edge-of-madness performance.
In a modern world increasingly concerned with the yawning chasm between the haves and have nots, a positive and redeeming Christmas tale is far from the worst thing you could indulge in.
Just be prepared for some unexpected inventiveness in this Christmas curio.
The Man Who Invented Christmas (PG)
Directed by: Bharat Nalluri
Starring: Dan Stevens, Jonathan Pryce, Christopher Plummer
In cinemas November 30