December 19, 2009

Rent it: A Christmas Carol, with Patrick Stewart.

For all those who like to bemoan the commercialization of Christmas, this is a tonic.

Charles Dickens’ extended assualt on the “narrow minds with broad opinions” that tend to afflict our rich brothers and sisters brings rich and poor alike back to a remembrance of Christmas Present: a Christmas spirit that is all about compassion, compassion, compassion, joy, tears, generosity of spirit and old dogs learning new tricks.

Whether Netflix or your local indie video station, this is a new classic worth the rent. Patrick Stewart starred in A Christmas Carol on Broadway for 10 years, and is the perfect Scrooge. While the production isn’t big-time Hollywood, the emotion—in the two below scenes—had me getting all teary and feeling lonely and wanting to live fully.



The below is an excerpt of a review of Stewart’s one-man Broadway performances (you can buy recordings):

…Stewart won an Olivier award when he last performed it here back in 1993, and one readily understands why.

The show offers a chance to see a great actor at the very top of his game, completely in command of his material (he adapted the piece himself) and spinning potent theatrical magic out of thin air. He clearly loves Dickens, and he beautifully conveys that love. More importantly, he takes a story that is often regarded as twee and sentimental and finds its darkness as well as its radiant light. A Christmas Carol may be a short book: Stewart leaves no doubt that it is also a great one.

He comes bustling on to the stage with the energy of a man who can’t wait to get started, dressed in a modern suit and a shirt, and starts arranging the few props – a lectern, a stool, a table – which together with a few lighting effects are all he needs to bring the story to thrilling life.

You notice at once that there aren’t many actors left like Stewart these days, actors who can speak with such exemplary power and clarity. When he declares: “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner”, every word, every syllable, is made to count. He relishes all the glorious energy, flavour and humour of Dickens’s prose, and Scrooge suddenly seems to stand before us in all his grotesque glory.

He has the perfect face, too. When he smiles, Stewart can look genuinely benign. But when he scowls, that shaved head, ascetic face, those hooded eyes and cruel mouth can seem unforgettably sinister. The famous “Bah, humbug!” becomes a growling rumble of festering malignity. But he also captures the character’s terror, and the final glorious melting of his frozen heart, with equal, high-definition precision.

In the course of the show, Stewart plays some 40 characters…

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