As I sat down to watch "A Christmas Carol" the 1999 version starring Patrick Stewart I wondered whether we really need another version especially another dramatic version which for the most stays loyal to Dickens' original story. I say this because Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" seems to be one of those stories which constantly gets used in movies, be it another traditional version or a play on the tale with a Scrooge like business man or woman learning the error of their ways and there is little which can be done to make a traditional version feel new. That brings me back to this 1999 version with sees Patrick Stewart taking on the often played role of Scrooge and in fairness doing an expected solid job of playing the old miser. But other than the fact we have Patrick Stewart as Scrooge and some nice special effects, although some feel seriously out of place, this version of "A Christmas Carol" is solid but not as memorable as either Albert Finney's or Alistair Sims' classic versions.
Now one of the few differences in this version of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is the opening because on a snowy day we watch as Scrooge buries his business partner Jacob Marley and vows to make the business they started together the most prosperous off of the back of other's idleness. It makes a nice change to the usual opening narration which informs us of Marley's passing as we also get the transition of time, 7 years to be exact, as we watch the sign outside the business rust.
But once we get this different opening out of the way the rest of "A Christmas Carol" plays out like you expect, Marley's visitation which Scrooge initially blames on indigestion and then his journey to the past, the present and the future. I suppose if you have only seen one other version of the story some of this may appear different but most of what we see is no different to any of the other traditional "A Christmas Carol" movies which preceded it.
So what does that mean? Well it means we have Patrick Stewart as Scrooge who back in 1999 was known to many as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard and soon to be known as Professor Charles Xavier. It does mean that those fans of Stewart in his Star Trek role will love watching him play Scrooge and might even love this version above all others because of Stewart. And to be honest there is a lot to love especially when we get to Scrooge getting his visits from the various spirits as Stewart does a really believable job of not just delivering the classic dialogue but also the emotion and transformation in character. Before that it is a little less impressive as in the scenes he shares with Richard E. Grant in the offices of Scrooge & Marley it just feels like he is trying too hard to act mean rather than being mean. It is similar with Grant who seems to be trying too hard to be meek but loyal turning Bob Cratchit into too much of a caricature in those early scenes.
Aside from the USP of having Patrick Stewart as Scrooge it has to be said that for a TV movie the look is brilliant, there has been no expense spared when it comes to the sets and whilst each one is quite limited they look authentic. And the special effects also look good with the introduction to the ghostly Marley being one of the best you will see. It is not just the big special effects which impress and the aging of the Ghost of Christmas Present is a simple but nice touch, one which often seems to be overlooked. But then on the subject of the Ghost of Christmas Present there is also the bad and I really dislike the fact that Scrooge and the Ghost get transported around the place in a twister; it looks wrong and quite tacky.
What this all boils down to is that the 1999 version of "A Christmas Carol" is another solid, dramatic adaptation of Charles Dickens' iconic story. But whilst there are some nice special effects and an enjoyable performance from Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge it is only a solid adaptation with nothing which makes it compete with either Albert Finney's or Alistair Sims' classic versions.