In early Victorian times, it's Christmas Eve and one moneylender, Ebeneezer Scrooge (Alastair Sim) is about as far from the festive spirit as it is possible to get. There is no generosity or forgiveness in this man's ice cold heart, and indeed he resents the whole holiday as a trick to take away one day of the year when he could be making more money, miser that he is. When debtors ask him for an extension on their loans he knocks them back, telling them it is nothing to do with him that they cannot pay, and if they spend time in prison so be it, and when his nephew Fred (Brian Worth) asks him round tomorrow out of courtesy, he gets nothing but a curt dismissal...
Even when this version of Charles Dickens' classic story A Christmas Carol was released in 1951 there must have been many grumbling, not again, do we really need another one? All these decades later and it has become the most adapted work of fiction of all time, so you might think as more and more variations on the plot are found from Mickey Mouse to Blackadder in television to the Muppets in the movies going back to a relatively straightforward recreation of Dickens' intentions may seem a little plain, yet the years have been very kind to this British incarnation of the tale, and much of that was thanks to one of the finest actors to take the role of Scrooge.
Rare is it that you see a performer who truly understands the part as well as Sim did here, getting under the skin of the man and his initial, flinty and unmoved reaction to not only Yuletide but to his fellow man as well, being terminally unimpressed with any show of kindness or goodwill, treating any form of courtesy as some subterfuge: Scrooge does not believe any man or woman has it in them to be anything but selfish and self-serving, because that's the way he sees himself. That Sim made us understand the character went a long way to the emotional payoff of the finale, but the theme that anyone can be redeemed, even an icily exploitative old bastard like Ebeneezer, contributed immensely to the overall effect, that Christmassy warmth Dickens was so intent on delivering.
The author was committed to highlighting social injustice in his stories, though what he did with this was not to spend page after page in scathing criticism of those stepping on the bodies of the poor to get to the top, but instead to appeal to the better nature he wanted to believe was hidden in even the most reprehensible of people. To do this, he applied supernatural means to his narrative, thus among other things laying the groundwork for the appeal for ghost stories at Christmas; there can be few as influential outside of the Bible itself which did more to establish exactly how we should be treating everyone else at that time of year. Once we have been made aware of Scrooge's nastiness, the stage is set for his comeuppance, but it's not what lesser writers might have done with him.
Dickens and this film feel a curious sympathy for the old man, displaying the qualities of forgiveness they wish to bring out in him by taking him first on a trip down memory lane so we may perceive what has brought him to this sorry state. When his late partner in business Jacob Marley (Michael Hordern) visits him as a spectre that night and tells him he will be attended by three spirits, Scrooge goes through denial straight to terror, but the Spirit of Christmas Past (Michael Dolan) is a mild mannered soul with nothing but sorrow for the tragedies in the miser's background which shaped him, including the death of his sister and the love of his life leaving him alone. Then it's Christmas Present (Francis De Wolff) who illustrates how badly many are off, including Scrooge's clerk Cratchit (Mervyn Johns) and his family, who could do with the benefit of the boss's intervention. Lastly, the true horror, the future as Scrooge goes unmourned and all potential for good gone; Sim's resulting transformation is both funny and moving, with nothing glib, one of the finest insights to a classic text ever rendered on the big screen. Music by Richard Addinsell.