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A CHRISTMAS CAROL FILM ADAPTATIONS

Movie Versions of Charles Dickens Yuletide Favourite

BEING A HISTORY OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL ON FILM

By Richard Jones

In recent weeks ghosts, dozens - maybe even thousands - of them, have been appearing in my front room.

I have, you see, been watching the many film versions there have been of the Charles Dickens classic in an endeavour to find the best movie adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

Every year, around early December, I prepare myself for my Dickens Christmas Walk by both reading the book and watching the film.

The film version I have always watched is the 1951 adaptation starring Alastair Sim, largely because a) I consider it the finest version ever made and b) because it brings back happy childhood memories, of when it was always on TV.

However, in 2013, I was asked to appear as an interviewee on Channel Five's Greatest Christmas Movies Ever to talk about various film versions of A Christmas Carol. As it happened, they didn't want me to speak about the Alastair Sim version but rather The Muppet Christmas Carol and Bill Murray's Scrooged, neither of which, I am ashamed to say, I had actually seen.

But, a quick visit (or should that be click) to Amazon and, a day later, the DVD's of both appeared before me and I spent the next two days watching them.

I have to say I loved them both, in particular The Muppets version, which, more or less, stuck closer to Dickens original story than practically any other film version - apart from giving Charles Dickens a big blue nose and introducing us to the Marley twins in order to make use of both Statler and Waldorf! I thought Michael Caine gave one of the best performances of Scrooge I've ever seen, imbuing him with a pathos that suggests he (Scrooge not Michael) is very much a product of a miserable past.

It set me wondering about all the different film adaptations there must have been over the years, and so I decided to begin researching the various celluloid incarnations of Ebenezer Scrooge by compiling a list of the many adaptations of A Christmas Carol and, having done so, I set about watching as many of them as I could.

Below, you will find a selection of the different adaptations together with my thoughts on each one.

Some of them are superb, some are middling, and a few are downright awful!

But they, at least, present us with a wonderful chronology of the various renditions of the second greatest Christmas story ever told, together with a terrific insight into the many and varied ways in which actors have portrayed Scrooge over the more than 150 years since Dickens created him.

I hope you enjoy these various renditions and, should you happen to know of, or you happen to encounter, any online versions I've not included, please let me know in order that I can add them to the page.

This is an ongoing project and, eventually, it is my intention to have a review of every film version of A Christmas Carol, so please be sure to check back regularly for updates and new reviews.

SCROOGE OR MARLEY'S GHOST - 1901

With Daniel Smith As Scrooge

The earliest version I have been able to track down is this incomplete silent film by Robert W. Paul that dates from 1901.

It is, so the credits claim, the earliest known version of A Christmas Carol on film.

It's spooky to think that, when this was made, Dickens had only been dead for thirty years and there were people around who had met him and who had even heard him read aloud from the book!

Keep an eye on the section in scene two when Marley's face manifests on the doorknocker and, inadvertently, makes a brief appearance through the back of Scrooge's hat!

Given that this is a silent movie, and Dickens himself was such a dedicated wordsmith, it's interesting to watch a Dickens story being told without any actual words being spoken.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL - 1910

With Mark McDermott As Scrooge

Lasting just over 13 minutes, this adaptation, made in 1910 and directed by J. Searle Dawley for Thomas Edison's film production company, this version makes a reasonable go at presenting the important aspects of Dickens story, and the ghosts themselves are well attempted.

As with the 1901 version, it's interesting to see a Dickens story being told without sound!

SCROOGE - 1935

With Seymour Hicks As Scrooge

The best known silent adaptation of A Christmas Carol was the 1913 version starring Seymour Hicks as the miserly curmudgeon.

In 1935, Seymour Hicks reprised the part he had made his own in thousands of stage versions, plus the 1913 film adaptation, and played the title role in this, the first talking version of the Dickens classic.

Hicks gives us an exquisitely bad tempered and disheveled Scrooge who delivers his lines with such rasping maliciousness, that you genuinely believe he really does hate everyone he meets.

The cover of Seymour Hicks Scrooge.

The first ten minutes or so are wonderfully atmospheric, and you can almost feel the cold emanating from the screen as you watch it. Donald Calthrop, as Bob Cratchitt, bears such an uncanny resemblance to John Leech's original illustrations in the book that it's as though he's stepped off the page and on to the film set.

There's a scene, early on, when nephew Fred drops by to, quite literally, shout the praises of keeping Christmas, and does it with such animated gusto that he appears to almost set fire to his nose on his uncle Scrooge's candle.

Once Scrooge has, reluctantly, allowed his downtrodden assistant to head home on Christmas Eve, we get taken on a tour of the streets of Victorian London, in the course of which we actually get to see Bob Cratchit go "down a slide on Cornhill", just as he does in the book.

And then it starts to unravel.

In fairness, since this was the first version with sound, there was nothing to look back to as a benchmark and you get the impression that the screen writer, H. Fowler Mear, and the director, Henry Edwards, began with the best of intentions of following Dickens storyline as faithfully as possible but that they put so much effort and time into setting up the atmosphere, and contrasting the gulf between the rich and the poor of Victorian London, that, by the time Scrooge got home for the start of his Christmas Eve redemption, there was no money left in the kitty to do anything else.

There is, for example, an extended scene, as Scrooge makes his way home, during which we are treated to a visit to the Lord Mayor's banquet attended by a cast of so many extras that the cost of their costumes alone probably blew the larger part of the film's budget!

We then get shown the kitchens below, where the cooks are preparing the Christmas Eve feast whilst ye poor folk of olde London town scrabble hungrily outside the window begging for a few morsels to be cast in their direction, their wish being duly obliged by a chef who proceeds to fling the leftovers at them in a way that is reminiscent of feeding time at a zoo.

This scene also provides the makers with the opportunity to straddle the boundary between silent films and talkies by taking, what appears to be, a nostalgic trip down memory lane and including a slapstick routine that features two jovial wine waiters over imbibing, jellies wobbling in unison with the quivering folds of flesh on a fat chef's face, and, that staple of slapstick humour, a kitchen boy getting slapped round the face with a soggy napkin.

You find yourself just waiting for the first custard pie to be thrown but, instead, we get the film's only musical number when the assembled guests rise to their feet and give a stirring rendition of "God Save the Queen." At which point the film cuts to the starving, scrabbling poor outside the kitchen window who are also standing to attention and singing along as well! How's that for gritty social realism?

It's a huge relief when the film cuts back to Scrooge who continues his homeward journey through the snow hurling rasping insults at every man and dog he meets.

It's at this point that you sense the moneymen taking the director to one side and telling him, "look, that banquet scene was great, but we're afraid the money's running out, you're going to have to cut stuff." "What stuff?" you can hear the director asking. "Well," reply the moneymen, stroking their chins and taking a sharp intake of breath, "those ghosts, are they really necessary?"

Thus we get a version of A Christmas Carol that opts for a somewhat radical approach to the story by doing away with the majority of the spirits!

Marley, for example, is nothing more than a disembodied voice with whom Scrooge conducts an entire conversation whilst talking to an empty chair.

Our hopes are raised when the Ghost of Christmas Past begins to materialise, but then it doesn't quite manage it, and you get the distinct impression that the special effects budget ran out half way through the scene. Thereafter Scrooge ventures off along memory lane accompanied by nothing more than a spooky voice and what appears to be an annoying smudge on the camera lens.

Fezziwig's feast and Scrooge's sister, Fan, are nowhere to be seen.

Hick's himself plays the part of Scrooge's younger self which, given the fact he was 64 years old at the time, and looked it, seems slightly creepy when we see him with his fiancée Belle, and you find yourself asking what could possibly have attracted such a pretty young woman to an old millionaire like Ebenezer Scrooge. When Belle sends him packing because "something else" has replaced her in his affections, you can't help but wonder if that something else was Viagra.

Following Belle's rejection of him, there is a scene, which is in the book, but which is often left out of film versions, when the Ghost of Christmas Past tells Scrooge to "look, and see the happiness you have missed." We then witness Belle as the happily married, doting mother of so many children, I counted at least sixteen, that, deep down, Scrooge must have been thanking his lucky stars that she gave him the old heave ho all those years ago.

We do get a full blown and, it must be said, splendidly rotund Ghost of Christmas Present, but this is followed by a BAFTA-worthy piece of shadow puppetry to depict the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

This version is, almost, unique in that it's one of only two versions that shows Tiny Tim lying dead on his bed (Patrick Stewart's was the other version to do this) and the scene where a tearful Bob Cratchit visit's his dead son's bedside is genuinely moving, although the poignancy is slightly marred by the fact we catch a brief glimpse of a crew member's finger pulling the bedroom door shut behind him.

I'm sure I won't spoil anything by revealing that it all comes right in the end, and Scrooge is as good as his word about being a better employer and friend to Bob Cratchit. So much so that when, in the final scene, we see Scrooge shuffle nervously up a church aisle to the joyous strains of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", and watch him lay a trembling hand on Bob Cratchit's arm, who then turns, smiles, and looks into his eyes, you almost expect the film's last words to be "I do."

All in all, though, this is a genuine piece of Dickensian film history and, as such, is well worth watching, if only for its curiosity value. Its antiquated feel certainly adds to the atmosphere - and who needs ghosts when you've got a particularly annoying collection of Cratchit children?

A CHRISTMAS CAROL - 1938

With Reginald Owen As Scrooge

The part of Scrooge was originally intended to be played by Lionel Barrymore. He had performed the role on his annual Christmas radio show for many years previously and the studio had hoped to take advantage of his popularity.

Unfortunately, Barrymore was crippled with arthritis at the time and was barely able to walk, so he suggested Reginald Owen as his replacement.

Barrymore, however, did get to introduce the film's trailer which was billed as a "fireside chat" with Lionel Barrymore.

You can watch the trailer below.

This was the first American film version of A Christmas Carol.

MGM's determination to make this a "family friendly" film meant that they took certain liberties with the original storyline as they attempted to tone down what they saw as the unsuitable elements of the Dickens narrative.

Reginald Owen Christmas Carol dvd cover.

In this version, there are no phantoms wandering hither and thither outside Scrooge's window; his doomed romance with his fiancée, Belle, is doomed to have never happened; the "wretched, frightful, hideous children," want and ignorance, are nowhere to be seen - let alone cowering within the folds of the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present; and the thieves who ransack Scrooge's room after his demise in the Christmas Yet To Come Sequence are also conspicuous by their absence.

Instead we are left with sugar-coated Dickens in which even the starving beggars look like they could benefit from a New Year crash diet.

Reginald Owen doesn't make a particularly convincing Scrooge, and the makeup used to age him is even less convincing. Gene and Kathleen Lockhart head a Cratchit family who are so cloyingly irritating that you find yourself wishing that the reformed Scrooge would revert to type and poison the turkey before he sends it to them.

That said, this version most certainly has redeeming features. It does, for example, possess the warmth of the original Dickens story and, with its overall feel good factor, it is easy to see why this remained the most famous version on American television until Alastair Sim's adaptation began to receive widespread exposure in the 1970's.

Although I've not been able to track down a full online version, there are several clips from the film that can be viewed at the Turner Classic Movies site here. If you would prefer to watch the full uncensored version(!) it is available on Amazon.

THE CHRISTMAS CAROL - 1949

With Taylor Holmes As Ebeneezer Scrooge

Narrated By Vincent Price

Vincent Price, the Vincent Price narrating one of the greatest ghost stories ever told. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, you could give him a dodgy beard, and an even dodgier bow tie. You could stick him on a set that wouldn't be out of place in a Victorian children's nursery. For good measure, you could call it Charles Dickens The Christmas Carol.

Cover of Vincent Price The Christmas Carol.

In addition, you could give Scrooge an extra e in his first name and bill him as Ebeneezer. Whilst you're at it, why not have Price narrate it in his best Ghost of Christmas Patronising tone?

Add performances that are so hammy that they wouldn't be out of place on the table at Fezziwig's feast, and you can't help thinking that the entire cast and company must have watched the premier with a unanimous "God help us, every one!"

Even Scrooge, played here by Taylor Holmes, seems somewhat embarrassed by it all and he repents his past transgressions with such little resistance and speed that the ghosts must have been left wondering if it had been worth the effort of appearing to him!

Still, you get told the story by the Vincent Price, so it's not all bad!

SCROOGE - 1951

With Alastair Sim As Scrooge

To many peoples reckoning, this is the best version of A Christmas Carol ever made, and there is little doubt that this is the one celluloid version of the story that well and truly deserves to be labeled a Christmas Classic.

The cover of Alastair Sim Scrooge.

Alastair Sim is superb as Scrooge, and Michael Horden gives such a splendidly over the top performance as the ghost of Jacob Marley that, if I were Scrooge, I'd refuse to ever reform in the hope that he'd keep coming back and repeating it!

That said, it does take certain liberties with Dickens original story.

We are, for example, given a back story for Scrooge as a man of business that is noticeably absent from the book.

Although Scrooge's fiancée returns, after having been jilted by the producers in the MGM 1938 version, she has, for reasons that are never explained, changed her name to Alice.

There is the suggestion, again absent from the book, that the reason for Scrooge's resentment of his nephew, Fred, is that Fred's mother, Scrooge's beloved sister, Fan, died giving birth to him.

The film also suggests that Scrooge's own father resented him because his wife, Scrooge's mother, died giving birth to him. This was most certainly not the fate that Dickens had in mind for Mrs. Scrooge as, in the book, his sister Fan is much younger than him. But, then again, as Scrooge himself observes, "The spirits can do anything.. of course they can. Of course they can."

But, who really cares about liberties when you have such a first rate film version as this. It's well acted, well told, well presented and, as it draws to a close, you find yourself most certainly wanting to ask for more - oops wrong book!

A CHRISTMAS CAROL - 1954

With Frederic March As Scrooge

Don't you sometimes find yourself longing for those long ago Christmas's when it always snowed; when happy folk in jolly bonnets and furry muffs walked about the streets, bursting into song at every drop of a hat; and you came down stairs on Christmas Morning to find that Santa had been in the night and had left a shiny new Chrysler Dodge in your Christmas stocking whilst you were sleeping?

In this 1954 airing of the tale - which was brought to us by the Chrysler Corporation, a fact we keep getting reminded of throughout - Fredric March sticks a massive prosthetic conk over his own nose and, accompanied by a star lacking cast, many of whom appear to have stepped straight off the sets of those annoying 1950's washing powder commercials, he treats us to television's first musical version of A Christmas Carol.

Frederic March Scrooge Video Cover.

From the opening moments, when an annoying boy soprano and a merry band of equally annoying carolers sing us through the snowy streets of Olde London town, to the closing moments, when a particularly cringe worthy Tiny Tim asks Scrooge "would you like to hear my Christmas song?", you find yourself trapped in your own Yuletide nightmare, wondering if the clipped tones of the fake British accents could sound any more forced, or the acting could get any more wooden, only to find that the answer to both questions is a resounding yes.

Frederic March, as Scrooge, bears an uncanny resemblance to William Hartnell, the first Dr. Who which, given I spent a large part of the production hiding behind the sofa, most certainly did bring back happy childhood memories of Christmas's past.

The ghost of Jacob Marley is played by Basil Rathbone who holds aloft a large ledger in a manner that leaves you just waiting for him to utter the words "Ebenezer Scrooge, this is your life." Scrooge is singularly unimpressed by all this and reprimands the apparition, who by now is holding its hands in a pose that is reminiscent of Tommy Cooper's "just like that", by telling him "I often heard it said in your life time Jacob Marley that you had no bowels" - except he pronounces "bowels" as "balls", with the result that, when he adds "now I can see that it's true", you almost feel shortchanged by the fact that Basil Rathbone has his back to the camera.

Sally Fraser as the Ghost of Christmas Past takes him back to Fezziwig's party where we see him as he used to be and watch as he refuses to dance until his beloved Belle arrives.

Where can she be?

"Sorry I'm late Ebenezer", she says, when she eventually turns up, and we realise that the reason for the delay was to give Sally Fraser enough time to change out of her ghost costume and into her Belle of the Ball outfit.

No sooner has she arrived than she and the younger Scrooge burst into song with an extended musical number that consists largely of the lyric "What shall I give my lad/girl [depending on who's singing] for Christmas?" sung over and over again. During a particularly excruciating sequence, in which she and Craig Hill, playing the younger Scrooge, seem to compete for who can hit the highest and loudest "what shall I give my lad/girl for Christmas?", you find yourself shouting at the TV "singing lessons would be a good start."

As Scrooge backs away from these visions of the things that have been, crying "no more, no more", you find yourself in the rare position of actually agreeing wholeheartedly with the old curmudgeon, and crying out in unison.

But there is more.

No sooner has Scrooge got back to the safety of his bed, than the orchestra strikes up again and a rich baritone breaks into his slumbers.

And, there he is, the Ghost of Christmas Present, striking a pose that could have come straight from the centerfold of an edition of Playgirl, and bearing an uncanny resemblance to Scrooge's nephew, Fred, who we met earlier. "A very Merry Christmas," the spirit sings, to Scrooge's total bemusement - especially when, half way through the scene, he suddenly breaks into what appears to be an impression of C3-PO from Star Wars.

The Spirit then takes Scrooge to the Cratchits house where Queenie Leonard, as Mrs. Cratchit, treats us to a performance that is so wooden you expect Tiny Tim to limp over at any moment and stick her under his arm.

Then, just when you think it's safe to come out from behind the sofa, Christopher Cook, as Tiny Tim, lets rip with a mournful ditty, watched by his adoring mum as she turns the goose on the spit and looks awfully like Mrs. Cunningham from Happy Days. "Bless us everyone" her precious, and precocious, Timmy warbles, as the camera cuts to a close up of Scrooge's face, and you sense that he is praying for the goose fat to set fire to the hearth and burn the house down so that he can go home and have a decent night's sleep.

"Will Tiny Tim live," Scrooge enquires of the Spirit, and it's all you can do to stop yourself shouting at the screen "Please God no."

By now, the extended musical numbers have used up a huge chunk of the 60 minutes running time, so you can almost sense the panic as they realise they've got to cram the Ghost of Christmas yet To Come, Scrooge's redemption, and another plug for Chrysler into the fourteen or so minutes they've got left.

Therefore, in a truly inspired piece of casting, the spirit of the future turns up as a crow perched on a tree branch in a mist enshrouded graveyard, and manages to cram all of Scrooge's Christmas's yet to come into 1 minute 40 seconds of screen time. We watch as Scrooge recoils in horror from the sight of his own name carved onto a gravestone and then proceeds to collapse onto the adjoining grave on which he sees, to his horror and our joy, the name Tiny Tim.

Thus, via another word about our sponsors, we join the redeemed Scrooge as he heads over to the Cratchit house and invites himself to their Christmas lunch, without, I couldn't help but notice, having, this time, paid for the turkey. He does, however, tell Bob "I'm going to raise your salary and we'll procure the best of care for Tiny Tim." Poor old Bob must have been gutted that he didn't add "and I'll throw in a brand new Chrysler Dodge, courtesy of our sponsors."

Bob then introduces his employer to his family, after which there follows an awkward moment in which the actors appear to have forgotten whose meant to speak next and proceed to exchange concerned glances before Tim saves the day by asking Scrooge "would you like to hear my Christmas song?"

The look that Scrooge shoots towards the front door says it all. But, it's too late, there's no escape. He's trapped, hemmed in by the Stepford Cratchits and, as the orchestra strikes up, and Tim takes a deep breath, Scrooge's left hand closes in on the back of the boy's neck and you can see the torment etched into his features as he fights the urge to drive Tim's face hard into the table and end the torment once and for all.

As the strains of yet another overtly sentimental number fill the air, the camera zooms in on Scrooge's face which contorts into an array of contemplative, bizarre and pained expressions, which are intended to show him mulling over his regret for his past transgressions and his joy at his redemption, but which look more like he's got a certain something stuck in his zipper and the camera man's having a right laugh at his expense.

But, all good things must come to the end, and so too must this outing of Scrooge. So, it's with a heavy heart that you bid a tearful farewell to sixty minutes of your life that you're never going to get back, as you watch Tiny Tim struggle to his feet and bring the festivities to a close with a rousing "God Bless us, Everyone!"

But, joy to the World, there's one more unintentional final nugget awaiting us.

For, no sooner have the credits ended, than the programme's host William Lundigan, who has popped up throughout to extol the virtues of Christmas and Chrysler, returns and utters the immortal words "now, here is Joan Evans who's going to tell us something about next week's Climax."

Apparently, it was, most certainly, the most wonderful time of the year.

THE STINGIEST MAN IN TOWN - 1956

Starring Basil Rathbone As Ebenezer Scrooge

In what has been described as "the Holy Grail of lost Dickensian television adaptations" - well, that's what it says on the sleeve of the DVD - Basil Rathbone doffs his deer-stalker, and dons the garb of literature's most infamous misanthropic miser to give us his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge.

This lavish musical production originally aired on the 23rd of December 1956 as part of the Alcoa Hour, and the fact the whole thing was done live makes it a truly impressive feat and achievement.

"But, why is it the Holy Grail of lost Dickensian television adaptations?" I hear you ask.

Well, I'll tell you.

Although the show was originally broadcast in colour, the only recording of it was preserved by Kinescope, which consisted of a film camera being placed in front of a black and white television set in the studio, in order to record the show.

For many years, this, the only recording of The Stingiest Man in Town, was believed to have suffered the fate of so many early TV shows, and was thought to have been lost or destroyed - hence its "Holy Grail" status amongst aficionados.

But then, in 2011, a copy of the master reel was found in the home of a retired Alcoa executive; and this discovery meant that, just like Scrooge, we can now look back with mixed emotions on a bygone Christmas.

Since this is a kinescope of a live broadcast, the quality of the recording varies enormously from scene to scene. Sometimes, it's excellent, other times its just about watchable.

This becomes immediately apparent in the opening sequence, as a cheery, upbeat American announcer's voice - a master class in upbeat America announcing voices if ever there was one - introduces us to the cast, who are shown looking awkwardly out from what appear to be a series of ship's portholes with, snow flakes stuck around them to give us the authentic feel of the season.

There is an awkward moment when Robert Weede, who is wearing an odd head veil, is introduced, and the camera stays on him a little longer than was evidently intended, and you notice his eyes dart nervously from side to side as he wonders what's going on.

And then we get the news that the broadcast has been brought to us by the "Aluminum Company of America - The World's leading producer of Aluminum," - that's Aluminium for English readers and viewers - before the opening sequence closes with the revelation that the programme was produced by the, aptly named, Joel Spector - well, alright, I know for that line to work it should have been Joel Spectre, but, you get my drift - and, if you're listening to this on a screen reader, I bet you're in stitches!

The production is "Holly Ho, Holly Ho, Ho, Ho'd" in by The Four Lads, who then sing about a man named Ebenezer Scrooge, who counts his gold in his counting house, whilst people in the square outside celebrate Christmas Eve.

They turn to mingle with the Victorian clad cast, who break into a rousing rendition, entitled An Old Fashioned Christmas, for which Johnny Desmond, playing the part of Fred, takes centre stage amidst a gaggle of gregarious extras who dance, fawn, kiss and pirouette their way through an opening number that soon gets your foot tapping along to the rhythm.

As the dulcet tones drift off into the ether, Fred, wishes them all a merry Christmas and pushes open a door, over which we see the names of "Scrooge and Marley", and there he is, the wizened form of Basil Rathbone, crouched over his desk, scribbling away with his quill pen.

"Merry Christmas Uncle Scrooge", shouts the exuberant Fred, only to have the word, "humbug", barked back at him.

"Oh, be merry Uncle Scrooge", Fred persists.

And then, Basil Rathbone does something that his agent really should have advised him not to do - he sings.

Well, I think that's what he's doing.

Mind you, he does manage to rhyme St Nicholas with ridiculous, so, I'll give him that one and move on.

Bob Cratchit remains awkwardly in the background for this scene, only coming to the fore - or in this case the door - when Fred leaves and the two charity collectors enter the counting house.

One of them, played by John McGiver, appears to have over imbibed in the Green Room, and slurs his lines in such a way as to suggest the early arrival of the festive spirits, but perhaps it's just a fault on the recording.

We get a series of blandly forgettable exchanges between Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, and between Scrooge and Mrs Dilber, before the pace picks up with the arrival of John Heawood as "'arry 'awkins, rag picker at you service", and the Four Lads return to join him in a foot stomping number entitled "The Stingiest Man in Town."

As the song dies away, and Mrs Dilber looks awkwardly around her, wondering if she was meant to exit stage left or stage right, the camera cuts to Scrooge, who is reclining in bed and appears to be sleeping peacefully, despite the fact that a loud baritone voice is singing about "a pair of rattling chains" that came "clanking through the gloom," before continuing with, "And while he lay there shivering, in the icy wind of fear, the ghost of Scrooge's partner, Jacob Marley, did appear."

And, sure enough in comes Robert Weede, as said ghost, looking as though he got caught up in the net curtains on his way in and one of them has wrapped itself around him.

We get another musical ditty about how Scrooge should repent, after which he learns what the night has in store for him, and then Santa Claus appears in his bedroom, who, so it transpires, is, in fact, the Ghost of Christmas Past. Pay attention at the back.

The ghost and Scrooge simply discuss Scrooge's school days, as opposed to actually visiting them; but we then get a festive treat of dancing, swirling and twirling through Fezziwig's feast, before Vic Damone treats us to one of the most excruciating younger Scrooge's never committed to celluloid, and demonstrates his love for his sweetheart, Betty in this version, by, quite literally, building a wall of gold between them, although in the next song he claims he's "built a wall of gold around us."

Betty, however, is not impressed and gives him the old heave ho.

The Four Lads - following what was evidently an ad break in the original broadcast - "Holly Ho, Holly Ho, Ho, Ho" us into the Ghost Of Christmas Present's appearance, which begins with a surreal scene in which a collection of children's dolls and toy soldiers taunt Scrooge to, "Listen To The Sound of the Christmas Spirit."

Suddenly, the ghost and Scrooge have arrived in the Cratchit household, where we are introduced to Peter Cratchit, who must be 35, if he's a day.

But, the shock of how mature Peter is, pales into insignificance when Bob Cratchit staggers in, with the biggest Tiny Tim I've ever seen balanced, precariously, on his shoulder.

As Bob struggles to set the lad down, you can sense the collective concern that poor old Martyn Green, who plays the role of Bob, might well collapse from a coronary before Scrooge has had the chance to double his wages.

Mind you, you have to take your hat off to Dennis Kohler, playing the part of Tiny Tim, who, later in the scene, struggles to chew his way through a stubbornly tough slice of goose, while Robert Wright, as the ghost, blasts a song in his ear, and the camera remains in close up on his face for an inordinately long amount of time. To think, the poor lad endured all this on live TV.

Scrooge then heads over to eavesdrop on nephew Fred's Christmas celebrations and, following what would have been another ad break, the Four Lads return to "Holly Ho, Holly Ho, Ho, Ho" us into the Christmas Yet to Come segment of the story, which, if I saw it correctly, begins with Scrooge, apparently, picking his nose, in nervous anticipation of the arrival of this particular bogey.

In strides the ghost, bearing such a striking resemblance to Darth Vader that you expect its first words to be, "Scrooge, I am your father."

This version breaks with other adaptations in that, at one stage, a group of writhing, shrouded figures chain Scrooge to his gravestone, whilst tormenting him mercilessly; and the camera pans in so close on his face that I fast forwarded to the end credits to see if Basil Rathbone's dentist got a well deserved mention.

And then, Basil Rathbone does something that, even his dentist should have advised him that he really shouldn't do - he sings again.

As the shock wears away, and Scrooge clutches at the spirit's robe, begging it to intercede on his behalf, Scrooge finds himself back in bed; and we follow him through his Christmas morning redemption, as he heads out onto the snowy studio floor, to make amends with all those his old self has offended.

His final call is to the Cratchits' house where, having sought Bob's forgiveness, he seeks to enlist Tiny Tim's assistance in changing the future.

However, no sooner have the words left Basil Rathbone's lips, than Tiny Tim bursts into song, and screeches - in a voice that can only be described as sounding like a cross between finger nails being dragged across a blackboard, and the Hound of the Baskervilles being castrated with a pair of bricks, that have been wrapped in barbed wire, before being dipped in liquid nitrogen - "Yes there is a Santa Claus for children everywhere...."

I don't wish to denigrate the lad's singing, but it's the sort of voice that not even a mother could love; and there really should have been a public health warning before he opened his mouth and launched into what must surely be the Holy Wail of Tiny Tim portrayals.

Thankfully, the Four Lads reappear to "Holly Ho, Holly Ho, Ho, Ho" us to safety, as the camera pans out, and we bid farewell to what has, most certainly, been a festive feast of heart-warming nostalgia.

I have to say that, although it has its flaws, and it can, in parts, look and sound dated, this production has a comfortingly reassuring charm about it; and the fact that it was all done live is a truly impressive feat, and one that I doubt many modern TV producers and directors could pull off, even with today's high tech wizardry. There are some excellent performances - and Basil Rathbone, whilst, perhaps, not the greatest Scrooge ever, certainly puts in a watchable performance.

MR. MAGOO'S CHRISTMAS CAROL - 1962

With Quincy Magoo As Scrooge

On 2nd December 2006, the America radio programme Talk of the Nation (TOTN) asked its listeners to phone in and nominate their favourite Ebenezer Scrooge ever, with the result that, the majority who did so, opted for Mr. Magoo.

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, which first aired on NBC on 18th December 1962, has the distinction of being both the first animated Christmas Special ever produced for television, and the first animated version of Dickens 1843 novella.

Mr Magoo's Christmas Carol DVD front.

We first encounter Quincy (hands up all those who didn't know his first name was Quincy) Magoo, "Broadway's Beau Brummel," driving the wrong way down a one way street en route to the theatre where he is, according to the critical notices that pepper the opening sequence, wowing audiences with his critically lauded version of A Christmas Carol.

Following a series of Magoo type mishaps, he dons his costume and joins his fellow cast members on stage, at which point we take our place in the auditorium as the curtain rises on our myopic matinee idol in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Which means that the TOTN listeners voted a fictional character, playing the role of a fictional character in a fictional play as their favourite Scrooge ever!

And, do know what? They might well have a point, as he makes a pretty darned good job of it!

Fitting the story in to a 60 minute TV time slot meant that sacrifices had to made.

So, out goes Scrooge's nephew, Fred, as does his sister Fan and the children, Ignorance and Want.

However, the scenes that are included remain reasonably faithful to the book and Magoo actually delivers many of Dickens original lines verbatim without, as has happened in several recent versions, any attempt to alter or simplify them in order to make them understandable to modern ears.

For some reason, the first of Scrooge's three visitations is the ghost of Christmas Present, who tells Scrooge, "you have never seen the like of me before," eliciting the response, "I'm not sure I see the like of you now."

The ghost then takes Scrooge to the Cratchit household where we get our first glimpse of Tiny Tim played by Gerald McBoing-Boing.

The second spirit to appear is the Ghost Of Christmas Past. There is a genuinely moving sequence when Scrooge places a comforting, transparent arm around his younger self as they sing "I'm all alone in the World"

One thing that struck me towards the end as the reformed Scrooge goes about dispensing huge bags full of his beloved gold coins - and the moral here does seem to be that money can buy everybody happiness - to all the poor he had previously despised is what if Scrooge is only doing it in the hope that it will make them as miserable as it made him? Just a thought!!

Apart from several verbal references to Magooo's short sightedness, the production is free from the usual Mr. Magoo style catastrophes until the curtain call when Magoo drags the director onto the stage and, as he does so, manages to quite literally, bring the house down.

However, given that this version, airing as it did regularly in the 1960's, 70's and 80's, was, for many adults, their introduction to Dickens classic, it would be churlish to find too much fault with it and, in honesty, it is still enjoyable and the songs, written by Jules Styne (Music) and Bob Merill (Lyrics), who shortly after this special collaborated on the musical Funny Girl and are, actually, quite memorable and, in a strange sort of way, rather haunting.

CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS - 1964

With Sterling Hayden As Daniel Grudge

It's Christmas Eve, and a man, who bears a striking resemblance to Benson, the butler from Soap, proceeds to walk across the marble floor of a large Baronial pile, as a vaguely familiar tune, crackling somewhere in the dark depths of the creepy old mansion, keeps time with his every step.

Making his way upstairs, to the strains of distant voices warbling on the night breezes, he raises a clenched fist to knock on a door. But suddenly the haunting melody that accompanied his journey breaks into "Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me" and he turns and walks away, evidently not yet ready for a Christmas Eve encounter with the three spirits of the Andrew Sisters.

The camera though has no such reservations and, ghost like, it continues its journey through the door and into the room, where the silhouette of a lone figure sits in a high back arm chair, and the disembodied voices swirl around the room urging him not to go walking down lovers lane with anyone else.

Evidently, this man is no fan of the Boogie Woogie Bugle Sisters from company nine, and proceeds to switch his gramophone off without even bothering to first lift the stylus off the record. Thus we hear, and I think I took this down correctly, "I just got word from a girl who heard from therrrrr guurrrrrrr nxtster ter taaahhhhhhhhhhh merrrrrrrrawwwwwwaaaaaaa waaaa, warrrrrr..... Spooky stuff indeed.

It's even spookier when the man, who by his pained expression is a troubled man, goes to leave the room and the song starts playing again of its own volition, without the stylus actually being on the record. Dang it. He is going to be haunted by the Andrew Sisters.

Carol For Another Christmas poster.

Thus are we treated to one of the most unusual introductions to Ebenezer Scrooge, or as he is in this case, Daniel Grudge, ever to have been committed to film.

However, the story of how this mid-60's re-working of the Carol came to be made in the first place is every bit as unorthodox as the opening we have just witnessed.

For, bizarrely, Carol For Another Christmas was brought to us by no less an organisation than that well known maker of blockbuster movies, The United Nations, who hijacked Charles Dickens immortal story to launch a charm offensive on the people of America, and, as charm offensives go, they made a bit of a hash of it. It's one thing to get a message across in a subtle and understated fashion, it's quite another to stuff your message into a sock and whack the viewer over the head with it.

The programme itself was produced by the Telsun Foundation (standing for Television Series for the United Nations), an organisation which had been founded in an attempt to tackle widespread hostility towards the United Nations amongst the American people. The Ultra-Conservative John Birch Society, for example, had launched a "Get US out of UN" campaign in 1959, and many ordinary American citizens shared their view that the United Nations real purpose was to build a "One World Government (New Order)."

Paul Hoffman, Managing Director of the United Nations Special Fund, felt that a lack of understanding as to what his organisation actually did was at the root of the hostility, and so the Telsun Foundation was formed, with the express intention of educating the public about the activities of the UN.

In April 1963, The UN announced that its new foundation would be producing a series of six movies, each of which would air simultaneously on all three US television networks without, thanks to an investment of $4 million from the Xerox Corporation, the need for commercial breaks.

Unfortunately, for various reasons, NBC and CBS declined to become involved and thus the first of these "Specials" Carol For Another Christmas aired on just one network, ABC, on 28th December 1964, and viewers sat down to watch the aforementioned opening sequence as the spectral voices of the Andrew Sisters drifted through the corridors of the old house that Daniel Grudge, who is evidently a man of extreme wealth, appears to share with nobody but his African-American butler.

And, it has to be said, as opening sequences go, it is gripping and quite spooky. If they'd kept this momentum going we'd have a genuine marrow chiller of a film.

But it quickly becomes apparent that scaring the pants off us with a cracking ghost story for Christmas is the last thing on the mind of the programme's writer, Rod Serling, which is a great pity since, as his other achievements include being the creator of the Twilight Zone, as Christmas creepers go, this one most certainly had potential.

As we watch, Daniel heads downstairs to be greeted by his nephew, Fred, who has dropped by to ask "I wonder if we could talk?"

"I was planning to get to bed early tonight," his uncle Dan tells him, just as a little voice in your head chimes in with a mischievous "I wouldn't count on it."

We then learn that Fred is of a liberal persuasion, and that he is on a mission to right as many of the World's wrongs as it is possible to do whilst wearing a tweed jacket and a wooly pullover.

"Well then nephew", his uncle scoffs at him, "which one of your many causes brings you out into the snowy night? Some perverted mass murderer who's seen the light and wishes to assume his rightful place in society, as an alternative to the electric chair? A movement to donate the Mississippi to the Sahara Desert?" Old Uncle Dan, it is quickly becoming apparent, is as hard and sharp as flint!

It transpires that Fred is mightily miffed that Uncle Daniel has gone and nobbled a cultural exchange programme whereby one of the professors at Fred's university was due to spend a year lecturing abroad, whilst, in return, a professor from abroad was due to spend a year lecturing in America.

"Yes, abroad," sneers Uncle Dan, adding with barely concealed contempt, "Poland wasn't it?"

It turns out that if there's one thing Uncle Ebenezer, sorry, Uncle Daniel, hates more than the Andrew Sisters, its Commies, and the last thing he's going to stand for is some Eastern Bloc Johnny Foreigner, "whose name, even  if I knew what it was, is probably unpronounceable", swapping roles and countries with a homegrown academic in order to poison the minds of impressionable young Americans with his own insidious brand of 18th century European literature.

"Get smart boy," he lambasts Fred, "we've been digging his sort out of the woodwork for years. You don't really expect me to be a party to inviting one of them in here now do you?"

Man oh man, does old Uncle Dan carry his own low temperature always about with him. He could almost be a card carrying member of the John Birch Society.

"Merry Christmas, by the way," Fred mutters, as his uncle unceremoniously shows him the door.

"Yes, so it is " his uncle fires back, "and tonight, especially tonight, I'm in no mood for the Brotherhood of Man."

So, the Andrew Sisters it is then.

Daniel then treats Fred to a terrific updating (well an updating to 1964 and the Cold War years) of Scrooge's berating of all and sundry at the beginning of the original Carol.

"Mind your own business", he spits at his dejected nephew, "and let everyone else mind theirs. Your responsibility happens to be your classroom. Not classrooms in Krakow, Poland; Butte, Montana [he's having a go at Butte, Montana now], or Johannesburg South Africa. Do you insist upon making it a better World? Wont you die happy until you do? Do you insist upon helping the needy and the oppressed? Is that some kind of an itch that you can't stop scratching? Then tell them to help themselves. Let them know the cash draw is closed and make them believe it. You'll be surprised how much less needy and oppressed the needy and oppressed turn out to be."

Having been told to stay out of his uncle's house and life, Fred catches Daniel off guard with a sneaky verbal jab and observes that, although they've never agreed on anything, they both have one thing in common, "...we both have someone we cared the World about, your son, my cousin Marley."

The blow evidently lands home, as Daniel recoils at the mention of his dead son, Marley, and we get our first glimpse of where the story's going.

"The one solitary thing on this earth that I cared anything at all for," observes Daniel, as the two of them put aside their differences and share a drink, whilst standing before a portrait of his dead son, Marley, dressed in an army uniform and looking an awful lot like Peter Fonda.

"And to what end?" Daniel enquires of no-one in particular. "So that a life could be snuffed out? His fine young body turned into a bundle of bleeding garbage...in return for which I'm sent his dog tags...I give them a son and they give me back his effects."

In the course of the exchange that follows we learn that Marley died on Christmas Eve 1944, and that Grudge keeps his son's room - which is where we first encountered him at the beginning of the film - like a shrine. We learn that every Christmas Eve he sets a place for Marley at the table, and that Marley's favourite record was the Andrew Sisters "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree". We also learn that, according to Fred, Daniel "mourns the death of Marley less than you mourn your own personal loss of him."

Hang on. Run that one by me again Fred.

"You mourn the death of Marley less than you mourn your own personal loss of him."

One more time.

"You mourn the death of Marley less than you mourn your own personal loss of him."

No, still don't get it. What are the Andrew Sisters doing these days?

Fred then chides his uncle that he will go on feeling the pain until "you realise the true tragedy of Marley's death. Not that your son was killed by another man's son, but that mankind still allows such dying to happen."

Have the United Nations had anything to do with this script? You find yourself wondering.

Daniel, though, is having none of this lily-livered liberalism, and his parting "Christmas present" to his nephew is a homily in which he tells him to put all his energies into "developing the fastest bombers and the most powerful missiles on Earth, they'll provide a lot more security for our young, and for the rest of the World's young than all of your debating societies, forums, treaties and other forms of surrender and handout..."

Fred, though is ready for him, "of course you'll grant all other nations an equal right to put their faith and sweat and effort into trying to make their bombs faster and more powerful than ours?"

Old Dan, though, is not a man to be trifled with. "Just let 'em try it," he snarls, "just let 'em know we have the biggest and the fastest, just let 'em know we're not too chicken to use them..."

My God, this man is bitter, and he's so ultra right wing that I bet the blind man's dogs would tug their masters away if they saw him coming towards them in the street.

But Fred has a parting salvo for his uncle. "Peace on earth, goodwill to men, to all men by the way," he mutters sarcastically as he opens the front door, and then legs it before old uncle Dan has the chance to give him a clip round the ear for being such a smartarse.

And then you realise, if you've not twigged already, that the purpose of this version of the Carol isn't so much to move and scare you as to preach at you.

So, for the next hour, the dialogue is peppered with grim facts and even grimmer statistics that, whilst highlighting the horrors of war, and the threat of an impending nuclear catastrophe, manage to, and I hate to be picky about this, put a right dampener on Christmas.

The central message here isn't so much "God bless us, Everyone" as "God save us, Everyone."

"War is also a contagious disease Mr. G.", the Ghost of Christmas Past will later tell Daniel, "the only chance to keep this particular disease from spreading is to keep talking. So long as you talk you don't fight...When we stop talking, we start swinging, and then we bleed. Then we got problems, like winding up dead.."

In all honesty, it is easy to mock the idealism behind Carol For Another Christmas. But to do so is to do so with hindsight and, in many ways, this was a brave piece of programming for Christmas 1964,when the World was genuinely looking the prospect of nuclear annihilation square in the face. Over the next 12 months more American sons would start heading off, in ever increasing numbers, to die or be maimed in a foreign country called Vietnam, and parents across the land would be asking the same question that Daniel Grudge is asking."Why?"

So, the moral of the film was sound and, to an extent, and somewhat depressingly, it still is. It's just that the preachy, self righteous way it goes about making its point starts to grate very early on and you start wishing that Mr. Magoo would turn up and lighten the mood a little.

With Fred having departed, Daniel goes to close the front door and, as he does so, there in the glass he sees a reflection of his dead son, Marley. Hoorah, you think, the sermon's over. Turning, Daniel glances through the door to the dining room, and there he is again, Marley, occupying the place his doting dad has been setting for him at the table for the last 20 years. Except, when he looks again there's no sign of him. Here come the creepy bits, you think. Suddenly, the plaintive voices of the Andrew Sisters break the silence, and Daniel casts a concerned glance upstairs, just as Charles, his loyal butler, shuffles past, evidently oblivious to the ghostly tones.

Oh this is getting good.

But then, something truly bizarre happens.

Marley fails to appear at all. Apparently, the ghost of Marley was meant to have been played by Peter Fonda, which is why the portrait in Daniel's house bears an uncanny resemblance to him. But, for reasons that have never been explained, his scenes were cut from the finished programme.

So, without knowing why it's happening, which, after all, was the reason for Marley's appearance in the first place, poor old Daniel finds himself on board a ship on a foggy night and, without so much as a by or leave - nor, for that matter, a word of explanation - he comes face to face with crooner Steve Lawrence, dressed as an infantryman with the World War One American Expeditionary Force (AEF).

"What is this place...some sort of troop transport?" he enquires, without thinking to add, "and what's it doing in my living room?" 

"You might call it that," the mysterious new arrival replies, adding, "on its way."

"From France?" Daniel asks.

"One of our stops," comes the reply, and then we see that the entire deck of the ship is strewn with coffins containing the bodies of troops killed in action in a list of First World War battles that the stranger proceeds to reel off.

Daniel appears as confused as we are. After all, like us, he's not had the benefit of Marley having dropped by to put all this into context.

"You talk like the AEF, what's your name?" Daniel enquires.

"I'm all of your AEF's," comes the reply, "also the BEF's, the Huns, the Ruskies," and your heart sinks as you realise that the sermonising is far from over.

"I'm the dead," the stranger continues, "all the dead. We're quite a stew."

Then, finally, he introduces himself.

"Still, nameless as I am, I've got a terrific title - The Ghost of Christmas Past."

Thus do we realise that Grudge's Christmas Eve hauntings are underway.

It must be said that Steve Lawrence puts in a terrific performance as the Ghost of Christmas Past. But the exchanges between him and Grudge are so top heavy with UN propaganda and pro-isolationist rhetoric - the latter being clumsily scripted to show the absurdity of such a stance - that you find yourself in the strange position of not being sure whether you should reach for the mistletoe or a missile.

And so we follow Grudge through his Christmas's past and present and on to the future which, as it transpires (surprise, surprise), is a post-apocalyptic future where the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, played by Robert Shaw, can't tell Grudge what year they've arrived in because no-one saw the necessity for calendars "...after they rolled the H-bomb and nobody made their point."

As Grudge stands amongst the ruins of the Town Meeting Hall, we are treated to an appearance by the late, great Peter Sellers who - in a scene that is reminiscent of Dr Strangelove which Sellers had made earlier that year (and had then managed to fit a heart attack into the narrow gap between the two projects) - plays a demagogue who calls himself the "Imperial Me" and who is carried in aloft by his adoring disciples whilst the assembled mob scream hysterically in a manner not unlike the screaming fans that greeted the arrival of the Beatles on American soil that year!

As the final credits roll, you feel utterly drained, as you mutter to yourself that you will try to be a better human being.

But, all joking and cynicism aside, Carol For Another Christmas does have a certain nostalgic charm about it and the performances from the various actors are gripping, albeit depressing.

You can also watch several clips at the Turner Classic Movie Channel.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL - ANIMATED VERSION - 1969

The editing is a little dodgy in this 1969, animated, re-telling of the story, but it does have a gloomy atmosphere that is not out of keeping with the book, and the Scrooge we are introduced to at the beginning is a delightfully unpleasant incarnation.

There is a bizarre moment early on when Fred, Scrooge's nephew, turns up at the counting house and, for some reason, feels it necessary to burst into song, accompanied by a full orchestra playing from somewhere deep within the depths of Scrooge's counting house!

Since it's the only musical number in the whole programme, you can't help wondering if he did it simply to annoy his crotchety old uncle even more! Scrooge, however, gives as good as he gets and responds with a rasping musical retort, only to be rebuked, in song again, by Fred and his hidden orchestra.

At which point, Bob Cratchit - who, by the fawning look he gives him seems to have developed a massive crush on young Fred - interjects with a half-hearted handclap and an encouraging "here, here," whereupon Scrooge brings the ditty to an abrupt halt, and, presumably out of concern for Bob's blood pressure, musical numbers are banned from the rest of the film.

Either that, or the film's budget would only stretch to one musical number.

Marley's ghost is particularly spooky, albeit Scrooge seems to black out several times throughout the visitation and, during his conscious moments, manages to, mysteriously, materialise in different parts of the room with such seamless dexterity that it's a wonder the ghost doesn't get fed up of trying to focus on him, call it quits, and tell him to stay miserable for the rest of his life.

All in all though, this version makes a good effort at re-telling the story, and its target audience - of which, given the fact is was made in 1969, I was one - would, no doubt, have loved it.

SCROOGE - 1970

With Albert Finney As Scrooge

By 1970, foot stomping musical versions of Dickens works had become the order of the day.

We'd had Oliver and Pickwick and so the time seemed right to give Dickens Christmas classic the full razzle-dazzle musical treatment - they had a head start with this one since Dickens had, after all, written it in staves as opposed to chapters.

Thus Scrooge, in the robustly miserable form of Albert Finney, waltzed onto the screen, accompanied by a cast of all singing, all dancing, classically trained authentic working-class cockneys.

It must be said that Finney's depiction of the miserly old curmudgeon is superb and he, justifiably, won a Golden Globe for The Best Motion Picture Actor in a Musical/Comedy.

The sets really do capture the flavour of Victorian London, although I suspect there would have been a little less singing and dancing in the more poverty stricken parts of the 19th century Metropolis.

The Cover of Scrooge, with Albert Finney shown on cover.

Alec Guinness drops in as an, initially, quite camp Jacob Marley. In fact, he enters the room with such a convincing mince that you fully expect Scrooge to enquire "are you free Mr. Marley" and then await a spectral "I'm free."

He doesn't, of course, and, for the rest of the scene, his Marley is quite creepy.

Edith Evans appears as the Ghost of Christmas Past - evidently having forgotten to change out of her Lady Bracknell or Miss Western costumes from previous movies - and playing the spirit as such a sweet old dear that your first thought is that it's the woman from the Gainsborough films topping up her pension in her dotage.

Kenneth More turns in a splendidly jocular portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Present and proceeds to get Scrooge so drunk on the milk of human kindness (which looks suspiciously like red wine) that it's a wonder he doesn't wake up on Christmas Morning with the mother of all hangovers and proceed to throw up all over the little boy he shouts down to from his bedroom window.

In this adaptation we even get a brief glimpse of the face of Christmas Yet To Come (I won't spoil the surprise) who proceeds to give Scrooge an almighty shove, which sends him toppling into his own open grave and plummeting into the pit of hell (you know it's hell because the entire set is painted red) where we're treated to one of the most surreal sequences ever to have appeared in a film version of a Dickens classic.

In a break with the book, and, for that matter, with other film versions, Marley returns and tells Scrooge that he is to become Lucifer's clerk, whereupon a line of hooded, burly, toned and topless male demons, with oiled bodies, proceed to wrap a chain around Scrooge, binding him to a post. You can't help but wonder, or perhaps it's just me, whether the Ghost of Christmas Present hasn't spiked Scrooge's drink and taken him to a dodgy pool party.

All that aside though, this is a terrific version of the Carol and the songs, although not particularly memorable, are most certainly catchy and you find yourself humming them at the most inopportune of moments.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL ANIMATED - 1971

With Alastair Sim As The Voice Of Ebenezer Scrooge

This re-telling is narrated by Michael Redgrave in a tone that is so spookily reminiscent of the old Pathé news reels, reporting on the devastation of the London Blitz, that your first reaction on hearing the introduction is to dive for cover and await the wail of the all clear siren.

Alastair Sim, provides the voiceover for Ebenezer Scrooge and does an adequate, though not particularly riveting job.

Given it's only 25 minutes in length, this is a quick jaunt through the story the chief glory of which is the stunning animation. The section when Scrooge arrives home is genuinely creepy, and the sequence with Marley's ghost is absolutely terrifying, especially when he undoes the bandage to allow his jaw to drop. Mind you, you do find yourself puzzling how he manages such clear enunciation of his words with his jaw stretched wide open throughout his entire dialogue.

Scrooge appears a little confused when the first of his supernatural visitors turns up wearing a dress, with long flowing hair, and with features so very feminine that its a wonder she doesn't take umbrage and give him a good slap when he addresses her as "Sir."

We are treated to a whistle stop voyage through the visits of the Ghosts of Christmas past and present that manages to get the main points of the story in and which, again is beautifully animated. The depictions of Ignorance and Want are truly disturbing and extremely well done.

Again the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come sequence is rushed but, as with the previous visits manages to get the main points of Dickens narrative in.

All in all, whilst not an outstanding version, this is certainly a reasonable adaptation, beautifully illustrated throughout, and it manages to cram Dickens story into a mere twenty five minutes without losing too much of either the atmosphere or the moral of the original.

THE PASSIONS OF CAROL - 1975

With Mary Stewart as Carol Scrooge

I suppose it was inevitable that, sooner or later, somebody would make a blue film version of the Charles Dickens classic. The only real surprises are that a) it took till 1975 and b) it's only ever been done once.

When my researches revealed the existence of a pornographic adaptation two thoughts immediately crossed my mind. Firstly, how would they spell Scrooge's name and, secondly, what would be the nature of Tiny Tim's affliction.

Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to provide an answer to either question, nor am I able to supply any insightful comments regarding how faithfully it sticks to Dickens original story, not out of any moral indignation, but simply because it's not available in England.

I have managed to track down one, decidedly un-titillating, clip on Youtube that shows Carol being led into her future by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (ooh matron) which, following an excruciatingly drawn out, mist shrouded tour of the flesh pots of what I presume to be Times Square, yields the memorable line "spirit I don't understand any of this, it's just a cheap hooker picking up some creep." I wonder what the future has in store for Carol?

MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL - 1983

Scrooge Mc Duck, the Scrooge Mc Duck, appearing as one of literature's most famous skinflints. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, to be honest, nothing.

This is a lovely retelling of A Christmas Carol with various Disney characters playing the parts.

The cover of Mickey's Christmas Carol.

Scrooge Mc Duck takes on the role of the miserly money lender, upon whom, incidentally, he was originally based, and presents us with the only Christmas bill you'll ever been delighted to see!

Mickey Mouse appears as the careworn and abused clerk, Bob Cratchit - whilst Donald Duck splutters his way through an Oscar worthy performance as Scrooge's nephew, Fred.

Goofy appears as a delightfully clumsy, and far from terrifying, Marley's ghost, lamenting to his old partner that "...when I was alive I robbed the widows and swindled the poor," only to have Scrooge misinterpret the intended warning as a boast and commenting "Yes, and all in the same day. Oh you had class Jacob."

All in all, this is a beautifully animated and thoroughly entertaining version of Dickens classic, and anyone who argues otherwise should be boiled with their own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through their heart!

A CHRISTMAS CAROL - 1984

With George C. Scott As Ebenezer Scrooge

Why is it that, whenever you see the words "And Introducing" in the opening credits of a film, you instinctively know that you're never going to hear of that actor, or actress, again?

The cover of George C Scott's A Christmas Carol.

How many students have, over the years, raced excitedly home from drama school, to burst in on their startled parents, panting, "See, mum and dad, I told you those 4 years of dressing up as a banana and handing out leaflets on the pavement outside ASDA would pay off, they're introducing me in a new film"?

"That's nice, dear," exclaims their doting mother, as she turns the goose on the spit. Father, meanwhile, nods his approval, and surreptitiously reaches for the local paper in order to peruse the situations vacant columns, on the off chance that McDonalds might be recruiting in the near future.

I only mention this because we are treated to just such an introduction in the opening credits of this 1984 television outing of the Dickens Classic, when the words "And Introducing Anthony Walters As Tiny Tim" appear, writ large across the screen.

In fairness to him he did go on to play Liam Neeson's son in Shining Through, and the squire's son in the 1994 version of Black Beauty, so, as far as "and introducing's" go, he seems to have done alright for himself.

But, back to the film.

In this reworking of the novella, George C. Scott dominates the screen with a performance that is so masterful that it puts his Scrooge up there with the best of them.

The film itself is beautifully shot and, the moment it begins, you are overwhelmed with the sensation that you have been transported back to the 19th century; so much so that you can almost feel the cold of the chilly Christmas Eve engulfing you, as the acrid smoke, swirling through the air, seems to somehow fill your nostrils as your eyes alight upon the snowy, foggy streets of Victorian London, which, given the film was actually shot in Shrewsbury, is, to say the least, somewhat confusing. Still, it must be said, Shrewsbury makes a terrific bygone London.

As the fog swirls around the screen, a solitary bell begins tolling a mourning knell and the sombre funeral procession of Jacob Marley is shown edging its way through the streets.

Then, the opening credits roll and, having been informed that we're about to have the honour of being introduced to "Anthony Walters as Tiny Tim", we find ourselves inside Scrooge's counting house, where Bob Cratchit informs us that 7 years have elapsed since the death of Marley. Wow, you think, that was a long opening credit sequence.

Bob then goes to put a coal on the fire, but his employer snaps at him that the human race invented clothes in order to keep warm, and so an additional coal on the fire is unnecessary.

There's no arguing against that sort of distorted logic, so Bob resigns himself to the fact he's going to have to shiver through the few hours of Christmas Eve he has left at work, and shuffles back to his work station.

As he leaves the room, Bob meets Scrooge's nephew, Fred, and they proceed to exchange pleasantries - of the "Merry Christmas" variety - before Fred marches into his uncle's office and subjects him to the familiar homily of how good Christmas has always been to him.

Needless to say, Scrooge, old curmudgeon that he is, begs to differ and gives his nephew short shrift, ending the exchange by declining Fred's invitation to come to Christmas dinner the next day

One of the few criticisms I have of this early section of the film is that the performances from both David Warner, as Bob Cratchit, and Roger Rees, as Fred, are a little too cloying and sentimental. Indeed, you fully expect David Warner to burst in to tears at any moment as he delivers some of his lines. However, this is more than made up for by the wonderfully gruff and menacing performance given by George C. Scott.

Scrooge then leaves the counting house, pausing to retrieve his top hat from his long-suffering assistant, and informs Cratchit that, in lieu of the fact he'll be taking Christmas Day off, he'd better be at work all the earlier the next day.

So saying, Scrooge heads out into the foggy, snow covered streets of Shrewsbu....sorry, London.

But, wait. Who could this be hobbling towards him through the snow, struggling to keep his crutch from slipping on the unforgiving ice? Yes, it's Anthony Walters, being introduced as Tiny Tim. And, my oh my, does he make a good Tiny Tim.

For one thing, he is, well, errr.. tiny.

For another, he looks ill and sickly, just as Tiny Tim should.

In fact, as he tries to wish Scrooge the compliments of the season, you find yourself wondering if he's actually going to make it through the rest of the film, in order to be able to deliver his closing "God bless us, Every one!"

Scrooge, however, is unmoved by the boy's haggard, sickly appearance, and dismisses him as a beggar - good heavens, you think, this man is hard and sharp as flint.

Just how hard, and how sharp, we get to see in the next scene, when he arrives at the Exchange and meets with three businessmen who wish to buy corn off him. Scrooge informs them that, since they didn't make the purchase the previous day, the price has gone up 5%; and, unless they come to an agreement today, he snarls, the price will have gone up another 5% by tomorrow. The businessmen protest that what he is doing is totally unfair, only to be told by Scrooge that business is not fair. Reluctantly, the men agree to his price; and Scrooge informs them that he will not ship until he has their cash in his cold, grasping hand.

Having watched Bob and Tiny Tim set off on their walk home to the Cratchits' hovel in Camden Town, we rejoin Scrooge on his journey home, in the course of which we are treated to a wonderfully eerie scene in which he makes his way along an extremely gloomy and exceedingly creepy thoroughfare, pursued by a horse drawn hearse, which trots past him and then proceeds to melt into thin air, as a spooky voice intones "SCROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOGE".

Having arrived at his front door - and having endured the vision of his partner's face appearing on his door knocker - Scrooge makes his way to the sanctuary of his rooms, where he proceeds to fill his bowl with gruel from a pot by his fireside.

Sitting down, he hears the same creepy voice intone once more "SCROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOGE", and, looking into the fireplace, the voice appears to be emanating from Jesus Christ, whose Last Supper makes up the tiled wall at the rear of the fireplace.

Surely, he's not going to be haunted by Jesus in this version?

Suddenly, however, Marley's disembodied head appears, and begins darting around the tableau; and you find yourself admiring his nerve at turning up, uninvited, at the Last Supper, when he is, after all, as dead as a doornail.

Moments later the irrepressible, much lamented, late Frank Finlay staggers into the room, weighed down by an onerous, mangled mass of metal boxes and chains.

Now, I must observe that, when Marley undoes the bandage to let his mouth fall open, the effect isn't so much terrifying as - well, you think he's about to crack an hilarious joke.

But, Frank Finlay more than compensates for the lack-luster jaw-drop by emitting a positively splendid scream of spectral outrage when Scrooge informs him that there's more of gravy than of grave about him.

He then proceeds to inform Scrooge that he is to be visited by three spirits etc. etc. etc.

And, with that, we're off on an oh so familiar journey through Scrooge's past, present and future, as the three ghosts proceed to show Scrooge the error of his ways.

The Christmas Past sequence isn't particularly memorable - albeit there is one Christmas miracle in that, when the ghost and Scrooge enter the classroom to find the solitary younger Scrooge sitting all alone, we learn that the reason Scrooge's father so despises his son is that his wife died giving birth to Scrooge.

However, we are then taken a few years into the future where we are introduced to Scrooge's beloved "younger" sister, Little Fan. How can this be if his mother died giving birth to him?

Edward Woodward gives a commanding performance as the Ghost of Christmas Present - at least I think he's the Ghost of Christmas Present, since he never actually identifies himself as such, and Scrooge, who has probably read the book a million times, and so knows the story inside out, doesn't bother to enquire.

He then takes Scrooge to the Cratchits' house, where preparations are underway for Christmas lunch.

Another minor miracle occurs when Bob hangs Tim's crutch on a hook by the fireside, only to have Tim come hobbling in a few seconds later with said crutch tucked under his arm. Tim then sits down at the table to tuck into his Christmas meal and, lo and behold, the crutch is back on its hook by the fireside. Darned clever these spirits.

The Christmas Present sequence ends with the spirit abandoning Scrooge beneath a railway arch, where Scrooge begins to lament his meanness, only to be rudely interrupted, mid flow, by a bright light coming towards him.

And, there, in silhouette, is the shrouded figure of the ghost of Christmas yet to come.

This whole sequence is creepily shot and it has a truly atmospheric feel.

Also, the scene in which we witness the Cratchits' at home, mourning the death of Tiny Tim, is a truly moving one and it is extremely well acted.

Scrooge's transformation is brilliantly done, and a final scene that shows Scrooge and Tiny Tim walking off down the street together is genuinely heart-warming.

A strong supporting cast backs George C. Scott's fantastic portrayal of Scrooge and, I have to say, I consider this to be one of the all time great versions, and one that certainly has the right mood and feel to both the settings and the performances.

And, in all honesty, Anthony Walters makes a really convincing Tiny Tim, so much so that I think his depiction of the character is one of the best, if not the best I've watched. So, in closing, may I say, God bless him, whatever he's doing now.

EBENEZER - 1998

With Jack Palance As Ebenezer Scrooge

In this 1998 Canadian version of the story, Jack Palance moseys onto the screen as Ebenezer Scrooge, a rootin' tootin, hard drinking, gun slinging, cigar-chomping miser who cheats at cards and thinks Christmas is "blah...hogwash."

The front cover of Ebenezer the movie.

It is one of those films that is compulsive viewing, sometimes for the wrong reasons, and the storyline, whilst not deliberately setting out to be so, is riddled with unintentional comic moments.

Ole Ebenezer owns the local saloon, along with half the town, but is greedy for more and so we first encounter him playing cards on Christmas Eve and cheating short-sighted Sam Benson, played by Rick Shcroder (the artist formerly, and latterly, known as Ricky Shcroder), out of his money and land.

When Sam remonstrates with the heartless old skinflint, a saloon brawl ensues with the hapless Sam coming off worse but, for good measure, Ebenezer confiscates his horse to pay for the breakages.

"Do you know what hurts me most?" Sam later laments to his fiancée Erica, the daughter of Ebenezer's dead partner, Jacob Marlowe - who, because Scrooge has cheated her out of her rightful inheritance, the Saloon, has been reduced to working as a skivvy in the local brothel - "he took ma horse, MA HORSE." Which, given he's just lost all his land and money, and with them any prospect of giving Erica the massive wedding we hear him promising her at the beginning of the film, makes you wonder about the nature of his relationship with his noble steed.

But I'm galloping ahead of myself here.

So, back to the saloon brawl.

Ebenezer and his nephew Fred.

The local sheriff, the "long, limp arm of the law" as Ebenezer calls him, turns up to see what the trouble is and, in the course of their exchange, we learn that the sheriff is, in fact, Scrooge's nephew, Fred, who is getting into the Christmas spirit by wearing what appears to be a box of chocolates on his head.

Fred invites his uncle to come and spend Christmas day with him and his wife, only to have the invitation flung back in his face with a gruff "I'm spending tomorrow with the only person I care about, me."

When Fred tries to give his uncle a goodbye hug, he receives short shrift, and a disgusted Ebenezer moseys on back into his saloon, where he tells his long suffering assistant, Bob Cratchit, "next man who tries to hug me, I'm going to punch him right smack in the kisser."

Whilst Scrooge is in his office, reluctantly counting out Bob Cratchit's Christmas pay packet, Bob sets about tidying up the saloon and, in the course of turning over the card table, he discovers the secret chamber where Scrooge hid the extra cards that enabled him to deprive Sam of all his worldly goods and "ma horse, MA HORSE."

Realising that he's been rumbled, Scrooge sacks his assistant, just as Bob's seriously ill son, Tiny Tim, limps into the saloon to give Scrooge a miniature horse that he's whittled for him out of wood as a Christmas present.

Scrooge, however, remains unmoved. So, to ramp up the cutesy tear jerk factor even more, Tiny Tim throws his arms around the old miser's waist and gives him a massive hug.

Suddenly, you find yourself tensing as you ponder if Tim could, by any stretch of Scrooge's drink-sodden imagination, be construed as a man, and, for a very brief moment, you find yourself recoiling in horror at the awful prospect that Scrooge is going to make good on his earlier promise and punch cute little Timmy "right smack in the kisser."

Thankfully, the moment passes, and Scrooge sets about paying his annual Christmas Eve visit to the local brothel where, surrounded by a bevvy of scantily clad beauties, he tucks in to a massive portion of turkey, waited on by Erica, the aforementioned daughter of his dead partner, whilst the pipe smoking Madame, Martha, bemoans the fact that he could have his pick of any of her girls but "all you do is eat." You can see her point, how would he feel if all she ever did when she visited his saloon was roger the barman?

Moseying on back to his living quarters, located above the saloon, Scrooge encounters a group of jovial carol singers and threatens to "send you all away to a manger, the whole blasted bunch of you." Shocking as this might seem, it pales in comparison to a later scene when he throws the entire contents of his chamber pot over them from his balcony.

Thus is it time for Scrooge to be visited by his dead partner, Jacob Marlowe, who tells him that, yep you've guessed it, he's going to be visited by three spirits. Scrooge evidently misconstrues this as an instruction and proceeds to down three bottles of whiskey, awaking from the resultant drunken stupor to find the Ghost of Christmas Past standing at the foot of his bed in the form of an Indian squaw who initially mistakes for Pocahontas."I didn't know you people celebrated Christmas", he snarls at her, as he points his rifle in the general direction of her head.

After this awkward introduction, the two get on famously and the ghost takes him flying through the night, in a scene reminiscent of The Snowman, as they head back to his childhood where we learn that he grew up in Philadelphia and that his financially incompetent father lost all the family's money on a dodgy investment, causing Scrooge, who appears to have been a promising straight A's student, to have to leave the school he so enjoyed attending. At this point, the child actor playing the younger Ebenezer gives his dad a stare that is so menacingly demonic, that you expect Scrooge Snr. to burst into flames at any moment. "Don't worry," his mother reassures her crestfallen husband, "our Ebenezer will make his own way in the World. He'll take the right path"

We then learn that Scrooge did, indeed, make his own way in the World and that the first step on his path to doing so was to steal the entire Christmas Eve takings from the till of his employer, the kindly old local store owner Mr. Fezziwig, and head West in search of gold.

What he found, instead, was Rebecca, a pretty young thing, whose father owned the biggest cattle ranch this side of whichever river they lived in the vicinity of.

We witness the besotted couple getting married, then watch, open jawed, as Scrooge takes over the ranch, manages to infect the entire herd with some virulent strain of cattle plague, flogs the ranch to some unsuspecting Herbert who, evidently, thinks it perfectly normal for cows to lie on their backs with their hooves in the air, and then proceeds to chide his, by now bedridden, father-in-law for his ingratitude by asking, "would it kill you to say thank you?" Given that his father-in-law's immediate response is to die, you end up waiting for Scrooge to say, "I'll take that as a yes then."

He and his beloved 'Becca then head for Canada in search of gold where, one snowy Christmas Eve, Rebecca, quite literally, embraces the festive spirit by running off with the local sheriff, causing Scrooge to end his appointment with his past by telling the spirit, "people might let you down, but money never does. Put that in your peace pipe and smoke it."

Evidently he hasn't quite got the hang of this redemption thingy just yet. One chance down, two to go.

Scrooge now finds himself back in bed, where he is woken by Sam's dulcet tones drifting up from the street below. With the ever faithful Erica at his side, Sam wants satisfaction, as in the dueling kind, and so he challenges Scrooge to a showdown at "High Noon" the next day, adding that they'll settle this "the cowboy way." Unfortunately, Scrooge has sloshed back another bottle of whisky and, in his drunken state, he mistakes Sam for the next ghost and accepts.

By the time he realises his mistake, it's too late and he's committed to a shoot out which, if you think about it, is going to prove rather awkward if the next two spirits succeed in transforming him into a peace loving, none violent, overall good egg.

Just when you think it can't get any worse for poor old Scrooge, nor for the viewer, the ghost of Christmas Present trots into his bedroom, riding a horse and dressed in a red tunic and white pith helmet that gives him an uncanny resemblance to an extra from Zulu. He's even brought a spare horse for Scrooge, who is more terrified by the prospect of the horses doing horsey things on his floor than by the fact he's got a spectral émigré from Rorke's Drift standing at the foot of his bed.

Once a reluctant Scrooge has been persuaded to mount his ghostly steed, they gallop off to take a peek at how other people are celebrating this Christmas. We get the traditional medley of Scrooge invisibly gatecrashing the Cratchits Christmas Day, witnessing his nephew toast his health, and watch him learn that most of the townsfolk agree with Sam when he tells him to his face that he's a "thieving fart," a line that the editors evidently saw fit to omit from the text of my 1843 first edition of A Christmas Carol.

You expect the ghost of Christmas Yet To Come to be Buzz Lightyear but no, it's just a plain old ghost who transports Ebenezer into his future, where he learns to his horror that, if he doesn't desist from his drunken and spiteful ways, the last words he will speak with his dying breath will be "Christmas..hogwash."

And so Ebenezer is persuaded to reform, and he duly awakes on Christmas morning just in time to participate in the duel that Sam challenged his old self to.

Luckily, when Scrooge takes his shot and deliberately misses, Sam's poor eye sight saves the day by causing him to miss the return shot and Scrooge is able to make good on all his past transgressions. And, needless to say, Sam is re-united with "ma horse, MA HORSE."

A CHRISTMAS CAROL - 1999

With Patrick Stewart As Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge

In the atmospheric opening scene of this 1999 outing for A Christmas Carol, a Victorian hearse, pulled by two black horses, and followed by two figures, dressed all in black - and sporting, if I might say, two particularly splendid stove-pipe hats - picks its way across the snowy summit of a hill to which skeletal trees cling tenaciously, as a blizzard rages all around.

As the hearse passes close to a camera, which some well meaning Secret Santa has left on the hillside, on the off chance, no doubt, that Patrick Stewart might, one day, decide to take on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, we glide along the side of the hearse to glimpse a black coffin, that looks stark and so alone.

Evidently, the coffin's occupant was not the sort of person who made friends easily, as no one has thought to send any flowers.

"I'll bet he was some hard-nosed businessman," you think to yourself, "and one of the top-hatted figures, striding behind the hearse, is his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residual legatee (say what?), his sole friend, and sole mourner."

On arrival at a remote and isolated churchyard, where a sullen-faced vicar, accompanied by an equally sullen-faced group of mourners, are poised, ready for the procession's arrival; you find yourself awaiting the voice of the director, David Jones, as he shouts "CUT! CUT!"

Abseiling down from the church tower, atop of which he has balanced his director's chair, he allows his megaphone to fall to his side, as he swipes his Directors Do It Standing Up baseball cap from his tousled mop of greying, matted hair.

"Didn't Charles Dickens write that Scrooge was Jacob Marley's, sole mourner?" he quizzes - as the assembled cast and crew bow their heads in awkward silence and their eyes dart hither and thither in restless haste.

As the cigarette drops from the clenched jaw of Bert in the catering bus, and lands in the Gordon Ramsay, own brand, "Coq Au F***** Vin Wholesale On Location Catering Mix", Carole from casting shuffles nervously forward.

"I'm, I'm, ssssssorry, Mr Jones", she stammers, as the director fixes her with a stare, so wilting, that it brings a decided flush to her cheeks, "but the vicar said we could only use his churchyard if we let his sons appear in the film. And, it's not like it's cost us anything; after all, the parish Ladies Guild knitted their costumes out of used washing up bottles."

"Well, I suppose no-one will notice," sighs David Jones, adding, "I mean, it's not like there's anything called IMDb on which people, who really should get out more, will be able to highlight any of the factual errors we make; and, anyway, they'll be too gob smacked that we've got Jean-Luc Picard playing Scrooge to really care. Okay, Action!"

We watch as Jacob Marley (1783 - 1836) is lowered into the ground; and then we join Scrooge, the vicar and the other mourner (whose name, we learn, is Mr Crump), as Scrooge scratches his signature against the record of his deceased partner's burial, and the three of them discuss what is so dead about a doornail, when, according to Mr Crump, a doorknob would be the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade - or, he adds, knowingly, a doorknocker.

"Nail, Knob or Knocker," snaps Scrooge, "Jacob's gone, there's an end to it."

Left alone to "grieve" Marley's passing, Scrooge raises his meager glass of sherry, and, rather movingly, promises his deceased partner that the firm they built together "will prosper."

So saying, he slams the register shut, and we find ourselves transported to a foggy and snowy London, where we drift down from the rooftops to join Ebenezer Scrooge as he strides through the streets of the Victorian metropolis, in which sundry, everyday, classically trained Victorians are making their preparations for Christmas.

No sooner has Scrooge entered his place of business, than the sign - bearing the names of "Scrooge and Marley" - rusts visibly before our very eyes, and, suddenly, Richard E. Grant is waving to us through the window of the counting house. No, wait, sorry, my mistake, he's rubbing the frost from the inside of the pane with his gloved hand.

The camera takes us into the counting house, where we get to assess the portrayals of two of the central characters, Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, the latter one of which is played by Richard E. Grant, which is why he was rubbing the frost from the inside of the window when we first encountered him.

At first, Patrick Stewart doesn't look particularly convincing as Scrooge. For one thing, he looks younger than you expect Scrooge to be. For another, he delivers his lines in a tone that is more RADA than rasping.

Richard E. Grant, on the other hand, gives us a Bob Cratchit that is nervous and subservient, just as you imagine Bob Cratchit to be.

And then nephew Fred, played by Dominic West, arrives in the street outside and peers in through the window pane from which Bob has, thoughtfully, wiped away the frost a few scenes earlier.

Moments later, he's entered the counting house and, having motioned Bob not to spoil the pleasant surprise of his arrival for his doting uncle Ebenezer, he does a nifty little skip and bellows, "A Merry Christmas Uncle, God save you."

His uncle, leans back in disgust, before leaning forward to continue scribbling away in his ledger, and Patrick Stewart growls an impressively throaty "baaaahhhhhh humbug."

The exchange between Fred and his Uncle, in which Scrooge berates him for being a year older, but not an hour richer etc. etc., then follows and Patrick Stewart delivers the words about every idiot who goes about with "Merry Christmas" on his lips etc. with a sort of World-weary cynicism that starts you warming to his depiction of the character.

As Fred heads out into the frosty late afternoon, he encounters the two charity collectors, who are looking for the premises of Mr Scrooge and Mr Marley. He is somewhat taken aback by the fact that they are about to ask Scrooge to give money for the poor, but not taken aback enough to warn them of his uncle's likely reaction.

On arrival at Scrooge's counting house, they proceed to quiz him as to whether they have the pleasure of addressing "Mr Scrooge, or Mr Marley", and we catch a glimpse of Bob, hovering in the background.

We then watch as one of the gentlemen embarks upon his familiar entreaty about it being "...more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute", at which point a look of terror comes over Bob Cratchit's face, and he legs it into his own office to hide under his desk, knowing from bitter experience what Scrooge's likely reaction will be to the mention of poor, destitute and his liberality in the same sentence.

Patrick Stewart delivers the "are there no prisons" and the "If they would die they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population" lines, with a controlled vehemence that suggests that Scrooge is struggling to hold his temper, and that he might, at any moment, erupt and wrap the poker around the charity collector's neck.

Crestfallen, the two men hurry from the office, passing as they do a group of children who are singing "As Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night" outside the neighbouring premises.

As the occupant of the building, a benign old gentleman, who evidently likes to keep his fur coat and top hat on at all times, opens his door, smiles, and drops a few coins into their tin mug, one cute, curly-haired little lad announces to his companions, "I'm going to try Scrooge's", and, before his horrified friends can stop him, he's hopped over to Scrooge's door, where he starts singing, "Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stephen".

Both Scrooge and Bob Cratchit turn to look at the door, expressions of total bafflement on their faces. It's almost as if they don't recognise the words of one of the World's most beloved Christmas carols, being sung in a mockney accent, drifting in from the street outside.

Suddenly, you find yourself awaiting another intervention from the director, "CUT! CUT!"

You can picture the cast and crew freezing, looks of nervous concern etched across all their faces, as David Jones shimmies down the drainpipe from the rooftop, on which his director's chair is precariously perched, and strides over to the little boy.

"Who told you to sing that?" He demands of the child.

"Carole from casting told me to sing any Christmas carol I could remember the words to", blurts out the little boy, "and that's the only one I know."

The director's eyes dart back and forth across the gathered cast and crew and his gaze falls on Carole, whose cheeks are, once again, beginning to redden.

"Carole, Carole, Carole," he sighs, "did it not say on Jacob Marley's coffin that he died in 1836?"

"Yyyessss, Mr Jones", Carole stammers.

"And hasn't Patrick just told the charity collectors that Marley died seven years ago this very evening?"

"I think he did", answers Carole, "to be honest, I wasn't really listening."

"So, if he died seven years ago this very night," David Jones continues, "and he died in 1836, then what year does that make it that this scene takes place in?"

Carole proceeds to count on her fingers, as she mulls the equation over and attempts a quick mental calculation, before eventually having a stab at, "1936, sir?"

"No Carole, 1843," chides the director, before continuing, "couldn't you have found me a child who knows that the lyrics of Good King Wenceslas weren't written until 1853?"

"I'm sorry Mr Jones," Carole replies, "but Mr Cohen would only let us film outside his grocery shop if we let his grandson appear in the film. And the lad's got a lovely voice, don't you think?'

"Well, I suppose nobody will notice," shrugs David Jones, "I mean, it's not like there's a thing called IMDb on which people will be able to list all our goofs, and draw attention to the fact we featured Good King Wenceslas in a scene set ten years before it was actually written. Anyway, they'll be too gob smacked by the fact we've got Professor Charles Xavier playing Scrooge to care that much. Okay, Action!"

As the cameras whirr once more, Patrick Stewart seizes hold of a ruler, and races at the boy, growling as he does so, "away with yer!"; and the terrified children scatter into the streets, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air.

By this time, Patrick Stewart's portrayal of Scrooge is starting to grow on you, and you sense that he was having a great time playing the part.

Having allowed Bob to leave for his annual day off, Scrooge makes his way home, and, upon his arrival, we watch as the doorknocker of his abode transforms into the face of his dead partner. I have to say, however, it isn't the finest doorknocker portrayal I've seen. In fact, it looks as if Marley has stuck his head through the front door and got it jammed, as opposed to conveying any sense of foreboding of the fearful apparition to come, which I think was the intention.

Scrooge's rooms, however, are genuinely creepy and they look as though they should most certainly be haunted.

Sadly, the build up to Marley's appearance is creepier than Marley himself, in this version played by Bernard Lloyd, although, thanks to excellent special effects, his jaw drop when he removes the bandage that binds it, is a particularly impressive one.

There is a perplexing moment when Patrick Stewart observes to his supernatural visitor, "Jacob I don't understand why you're suffering. All your life you were a good businessman". He, mysteriously, adopts a Scottish accent with which to deliver the line and, if you were to close your eyes, you would swear the voice was coming from Sean Connery.

And so Scrooge sets off on his journey through his past and present which, to be honest, although beautifully shot, is much like other film versions of the story.

The scene at the Cratchit family's hovel, however, is genuinely heart-warming, and the house itself looks distinctly hovelly. They're also a lovely family, just the sort of family in whose company it would be a delight to spend Christmas, if only for the chance it would afford to sit next to Richard E. Grant at the table.

The visit ends with Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present looking on as Bob Cratchit nudges Tiny Tim and encourages him to, "give us a song, Tim Lad", and Tim obliges with a lovely rendition of "Silent Night".

As the serene strains of Tim's angelic voice drift from the Dolby speakers of your screen, you feel your heart filling with sadness at the thought of what the future has in store for the poor boy; and you wish that the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come would spirit him to the second decade of the 21st century, and set him down in a suburban bedroom, the walls of which are adorned with pristine Star Trek: The Next Generation posters.

Here, he and the Spirit could look on, invisible to the room's sole occupant, a morbidly obese 40 year-old, sporting greasy bifocals, held together with a crudely cut length of ancient sticking-plaster, and wearing a frayed cardigan.

As they gaze upon the shadow of things that Will be, he sets aside his slice of Papa Scrooge's Christmas Feast Pizza - with its goose, turkey and humbug topping - wipes the "secret recipe extra cholesterol seasonal sauce" from his lips, using the cuff of his cardigan; and allows his pudgy fingers to hammer furiously at his keyboard, a look of conceited indignation on his face, as he points out on IMDb that "this German-language hymn, written in Austria, wasn't translated into English until 1863...a full 20 years after Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol."

We then join Scrooge and the Spirit for a journey that is in the original text, but which isn't often attempted in film versions; as the ghost and Scrooge set off to view how Christmas is being celebrated the World over by crossing bleak moors, visiting a solitary lighthouse, arriving on a ship at sea, before ending their whistle-stop tour at a Welsh mine, where a particularly fine baritone voice brings the scene to a close, as Scrooge and the ghost look down on the miners from atop a nearby coal heap.

They then drop in on his nephew Fred's Christmas, before we, and Scrooge, notice that the ghost has aged visibly, and, before we know it, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come has whizzed Scrooge into his future.

The Ghost isn't a particularly noteworthy apparition, but its shortcomings are more than compensated for by one of the most moving scenes of the entire film, in which Bob Cratchit sits down by the bed, on which reclines the body of his deceased Tiny Tim, to whom bids him a tearful farewell. The poignancy of the scene isn't even spoiled by the fact that Ben Tibber, playing the role of Tiny Tim, evidently finds difficulty in holding his breath and keeping his eyes shut with the camera full on him, and observant viewers will notice his eyelids tremble slightly at one stage.

Scrooge's Christmas morning transformation is, if I'm to be brutally honest, not as exuberant as in other versions, albeit, he does indulge in a snowball fight with the local children; and he does stop off to join in a rousing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" (which I think was around in 1843) at the Christmas Morning service in his local church; before ending his day by dropping in on nephew Fred, to seek his forgiveness and to atone for being a miserable old misanthrope during Fred's visit to him.

And so we learn that Tim lives and that Scrooge becomes a second father to him, before watching as Scrooge invites the entire Cratchit clan into his house, and Tiny Tim, who is struggling to stay upright as he hobbles over the snow, slips on the step and almost ends up lame in his other leg.

We get a final "God bless Us, Every One!" from Tiny Tim, before the camera pans in on the faces of various cute Cratchit children, and the credits roll to bring another version of A Christmas Carol to an end.

All in all, this is a well made and well acted adaptation of the tale, and the sets and locations succeed wonderfully in conveying a sense of the age in which the story is set.

Patrick Stewart gives us a Scrooge that is, most certainly, different to the majority of the portrayals, but one that is both watchable and enjoyable; and it was a brave decision not to use prosthetics to age him, as has been done with other versions.

So, although this is not the best version of the Dickens classic, it is certainly a quality adaptation and belongs fairly high up in the top ten all time versions.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL - 2000

With Ross Kemp As Eddie Scrooge

In what was billed as a "gritty" re-working of Charles Dickens's novella, Ross ("awight bruv") Kemp plays the part of Eddie Scrooge, an unscrupulous loan shark on a run down estate, which looks surprisingly like the Brunswick Estate in Bloomsbury - which, as it happens, it is, and which is very close to the Dickens House Museum in Doughty Street, so how's that for geographic realism?

We encounter Eddie on Christmas Eve, doing his rounds, accompanied by his hapless assistant Bob Cratchit, spreading ill will amongst the poor folk of the estate who have been unfortunate enough to have borrowed money off Eddie and who are now unable, or unwilling, to re-pay it.

Confiscating a TV set - which he then proceeds to drop over the balcony, just to show us how mean and spiteful he really is - from a down-at-heel family whose (single?) mother implores him to allow her and her children to enjoy a traditional Christmas "like everyone else, where the telly goes on at 7 in the morning and stays on till midnight," Eddy dispenses with Scrooge's traditional homilies in favour of such pearls of wisdom as "Christmas time, when the stupid and the bone idle join forces to celebrate the birth of catalogue shopping."

We learn that Eddie's former partner, Jacob Marley, has been gunned down in some sort of gangland vendetta and that Jacob's mum, a jolly West Indian lady, who Scrooge encounters singing Christmas carols on the estate, suspects that Scrooge had something to do with her son's murder.

Having told Bob, whose son Tim is in hospital suffering with cystic fibrosis, that he can't have the whole of Christmas day off, because it's the one day of the year that he can be certain to find his victims (sorry, clients) in, Scrooge heads for a Christmas tipple at the local bar.

Here he tries to buy a drink for his ex girlfriend, Bella, who is a nurse (we know she and her friends are nurses because they're swigging drinks and dancing whilst still wearing their nurses uniforms) only to have the drink returned by her friend who tells him that "it won't be Bella on the end of your cracker this year."

His nephew Fred, a policeman no less, stops off at the bar, taking a break from his beat (now that's stretching the bounds of credulity a bit, a Bobby on the beat) to invite him round for Christmas dinner the next day, an offer Scrooge declines with a gruff "no."

Observing that they'll set a place for him anyway because "it's what Mum would have wanted," Fred puts his helmet back on and exits, just as, what appears to be the cast of extras from the Walking Dead shuffles past, performing a particularly lack-lustre Christmas conga.

Scrooge downs his drink and heads home, passing en route a police MURDER poster, displaying a photograph of his old partner, Jacob Marley, which Scrooge tries to rip down, only to have the face come to life - Eddie's flat is too high-tech to have something as old-fashioned as a doorknocker - and say his name.

Arriving home, he is visited by Marley's ghost, a cool, leather-jacketed, black dude, played by Ray Fearon, who tells him "Eddie, we need t' talk" and, to avoid any confusion, shows him his fatal bullet wounds to prove it's him.

Marley tells him that he is going to "get three visits" and, no sooner has he high fived Scrooge (okay I made that bit up) and left - dragging the chains of all the "bad stuff" he "did in life" - than the first spirit turns up on his TV screen in the form of his old departed dad, played by Warren Mitchell, who punches his way out of the television set and introduces himself as the Ghost of Christmas Past, adding "it's a bummer of a job, but when was I ever lucky"?

At this point I was hoping that the ghost would take Scrooge back to his childhood Christmas dinner table where we would hear him being scolded with "if you don't eat your sprouts Eddie we'll change your name to Ebenezer and the other kids will laugh at you."

Instead, we get Scrooge observing "how can you be the Ghost of Christmas Past, you ruined Christmas for me?" Only to have the ghost reply, "it wasn't my fault, son, how was I to know Scalextric didn't have a plug on it?"

Thus does the second most famous Christmas Eve ever get underway and, to be honest, it really is a very good adaptation.

There is an interesting departure from other adaptations in that, as the time for each of the spirits arrivals draws close, Eddie finds himself reliving the same Christmas Eve over again á la Groundhog Day.

So, poor old Scrooge begins each new Christmas Eve by waking up to the sight of Richard and Judy on his telly, which is probably a more terrifying prospect than being visited by three ghosts!

Being forced to repeat Christmas Eve, however, gives Scrooge the opportunity to try his hardest to reform several times, each time making a clumsy hash of it until it all comes right in the end.

Marley turns up again as the Ghost of Christmas Present - wrapped in fairy lights and tinsel and explaining that "we're 'affing t' double up, it's the busiest night of the year, 'aunting wise" - and we learn that his murder was the result of Scrooge having set him up in order to teach him a lesson because "you got greedy Jacob," which, as lessons go, is a pretty harsh one.

Ignorance and want are, in this version, a homeless pair of brother and sister beggars who Scrooge initially dismisses as scam artists, observing that, "you give people like that too many 'and outs and they don't wanna work."

There is a nice twist with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (or the Ghost of Christmas Future in this version) which isn't actually revealed until the last scene, so I won't spoil the surprise.

Despite my initial misgivings, this really is an excellent re-working.

Ross Kemp puts in a great performance, and the other characters, although perhaps a little stereotypical, are, nonetheless, reasonably convincing.

Admittedly the huge amounts of cash that the reformed Scrooge goes around cheerily dispensing amongst the poor, dispossessed folk of the Brunswick Estate (£50,000 to the Cratchits alone!) leaves you wondering about the rate of interest he must have been charging, especially since, as far as I could make out, he only has three customers.

Also, it's not the Cratchits, but his nephew Fred and his wife who benefit from Scrooge's culinary largesse, albeit, since they're vegetarians, Scrooge can't send them a turkey so, instead, he sends them the biggest nut roast they've ever seen.

But these are just niggling points and, all in all, this was such a satisfying re-working of the story that I'm surprised it hasn't been shown every Christmas since it first aired in 2000.

If there's one thing adaptations such as this show us, it is just what a cracking story Dickens original was and how it can be so effortlessly adapted to every age without seeming in the least bit dated.

The depressing thing is that so many of the social issues that Dickens tackles in A Christmas Carol are, as this version makes you realise, still with us today, more than 170 years after he first highlighted them and railed against them.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL - 2004

With Kelsey Grammer As Ebenezer Scrooge

I've had a great idea for a television Christmas advert.

Kelsey Grammer gets sent the script for a lavish, new, musical version of A Christmas Carol. Having glanced over it, just before dropping off to sleep one night, he sets the script down on his bedside table, oblivious to the presence of two figures who stand looking on, but invisible, beside his bed. He wakes up the next morning and fires off a quick email to his agent accepting the role of Ebenezer Scrooge.

We then fast forward, via the filming of various scenes in the musical, to arrive at the closing number. Suddenly, the Ghost of Christmas Past appears and whizzes Kelsey Grammer back to the bed in which we first encountered him at the beginning of the advert.

As he looks on, his old self sets the script down on his bedside table; and on the screen there appear the words "Should've gone to Specsavers."

I think it's a winner.

Which is more than I can say for this 2004 musical adaptation, which is so bad that even Kelsey Grammer, as the protagonist of the piece, opts to keep his eyes shut for most of the film; only opening them when Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning, and the end of the nightmare hoves into view.

First off, you get the distinct impression that Alan Menken, who wrote the music, and Lynn Ahrens, who was responsible for the lyrics and teleplay, found their inspiration by sticking on a "Now That's What I Call A Musical" CD and simply following its format to the letter.

Secondly, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Kelsey Grammer just doesn't make a good Scrooge. Since he looks so much younger than Scrooge ought to be, he is given a bizarre wig, in order to age him, and he attempts to make himself look older by scrunching his eyes up, Mr Magoo Style, whilst giving the character a strange walk and poise that is suggestive of severe incontinence.

The acting is, on the whole, wooden and hammy; the dancing is, for the most part, clumsy and repetitive; the British accents are, almost all, stereotypical 'Ollywood does Cockney; and the storyline makes so many departures from Dickens's original, that you get the distinct impression that the writers set out with the conceited belief that they could improve on Dickens.

I can honestly say, hand on heart, it is about the only adaptation I've watched in which I found myself envying Jacob Marley for being as dead as a doornail.

Interestingly, however, in this version Marley is not dead to begin with. In fact, Marley doesn't even get a mention until 17 minutes and 39 seconds into the film, his introduction coming at the point when Scrooge arrives home and sees Marley's face on the doorknocker.

As the opening credits roll, we are treated to a view of the streets of an incredibly clean Victorian London, where sundry characters seem to have wandered onto the set from several of Charles Dickens other works, such as Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop.

By way of an example, we witness a trio of Artful Dodger type street urchins, jostling a respectable gentleman, who doesn't seem to notice that they've gone and picked his pocket and stolen his watch. In fact, we only realise what the little beggars have done when they present their ill-gotten gains to a Fagin-like character, who having accepted it, heads back to the set of Oliver to have a right laugh with the rest of the cast as he tells them how he photo-bombed Kelsey Grammer's latest movie.

A jolly (or drunk) couple then meander their way across the set, evidently sharing a great joke together, as the man is almost doubled over in mirth.

As they stagger past a lad in a flat cap, who is wearing an ill fitting brown jacket; and who, on closer observation, turns out to be Jane Krakowski, we watch her shimmy up a gas lamp and proceed to light it, evidently not noticing that this day has not yet gotten even remotely dark.

No sooner has she shimmied back down the pole and scurried off into the bright day, than who should go walking past but Jesse L. Martin, who is attempting to drum up - or, to be more precise, ring up - an audience for a Christmas Charity Show, which is to be staged at the Gaiety Theatre.

We then join a man and his daughter as they stroll past a blind beggar woman, played by Geraldine Chaplin, and we watch as they ascend a splendid flight of snow-covered steps to enter a grand building which, as we are shortly to learn, is The Royal Exchange.

Once inside, all is hustle and bustle, as a group of jolly carolers urge the milling throng to, "Harken while you may, for Christmas Day is near."

A character, who appears to be Mr Bumble making another guest appearance from Oliver, bangs his beadle's staff on the floor, and announces that the Royal Exchange will be closing for Christmas in thirty minutes.

"Thirty minutes?", you think, "why, that's just enough time for an extended musical number."

Sure enough, as if they read your mind, the cast launch into just such a song, entitled "Jolly Good Time", and which features the refrain, "Every one sing, fol a la la, pa pa, pa, pa, hip, hip, hoorah".

As the song ends, the man and his daughter, whom we earlier encountered ascending the steps of the building, approach two top-hatted gentlemen, and the father informs them that they are looking for Mr. Scrooge, who, he is certain, will be sympathetic to their plight.

The gentlemen, and those around them, find his naivety hilarious and are in the midst of mocking him, when a familiar voice shouts, "Cratchit!", and in waddles Kelsey Grammer, with Edward Gower, as Bob Cratchit, struggling to keep up.

After a few exchanges with the other businessmen and traders, the man and his daughter approach Scrooge, and the father informs him that, since his wife has just died and he has to cover her funeral expenses, he needs more time to pay back the money he owes him.

Scrooge, of course, is having none of it and he tells the man that he must hand over the money, with interest, the next day, the 25th of December no less.

And, as the man and his daughter look totally bereft at the stark choices Scrooge's meanness has foisted upon them: to either spend Christmas Day with the corpse of his dead wife, her late mother decomposing in a corner and putting a right dampener on the festivities, or else face eviction for non payment of their overdue mortgage; the cast show their sympathy for their plight by bursting into song and "fol a la la-ing, pa pa, pa, pa-ing, hip, hip, hoorah-ing" them out of the Royal Exchange, with the words "Every one have a jolly good time tonight" ringing in their ears.

We then follow Scrooge on his homeward journey, in the course of which he encounters Jane Krakowski, Jesse L. Martin and Geraldine Chaplain, all of whom try to encourage him to be a better person and help out their various causes.

And so Scrooge's Christmas Eve gets underway; and, if you thought Kelsey Grammer was miscast as Scrooge, you're in for a major treat when Jason Alexander turns up as Marley's ghost, looking like a cross between Beetlejuice and the Penguin; and treats us to another musical number, entitled "Link By Link", which is an amalgam of "If I Were A Rich Man", from Fiddler On The Roof, and "I'm Reviewing The Situation", from Oliver.

And so we join Scrooge on his journey towards redemption, making so many detours from the original story on the way that you actually wonder if the writers worked from memory and got confused with the plots of other of Dickens's novels that they had skimmed through in childhood, not to mention a few biographies of Dickens that they had happened to catch on PBS.

Jane Krakowski returns as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and proceeds to use the posts of Scrooge's bed to treat the old curmudgeon to a pole dance that is so erotic, even Kelsey Grammer struggles to keep his eyes scrunched up during the performance. Indeed, you fully expect him to thrust a folded £1 note into the cleavage of the elfish, fairy costume that is loosely draped around her.

She takes him on a journey into his past, where we witness his father appearing in court to be declared bankrupt and then be sentenced to a term in a debtors prison - a fate which befell Dickens' own father, but which doesn't actually appear in the pages of A Christmas Carol.

As he is led from Court, Scrooge's father turns to Scrooge's younger self and instructs him to make his fortune and keep it.

As young Scrooge, and his mother and sister watch Scrooge senior being led away, the little girl exclaims, "Mother, what shall we do?"

Now, I don't know about you, but I always find that a song helps in these situations; and, sure enough, Scrooge's mother launches into a tear jerker entitled, "God Bless Us Every One." She should be thankful that Tiny Tim doesn't have her imprisoned for stealing his catch phrase.

However, the wrath of Tiny Tim will be the least of her worries if some concerned citizen goes and informs Social Services that, having finished the song, she thrusts her offspring out into the World to fend for themselves, urging them, as she breaks into song again, to "work hard and write often."

Scrooge then goes to work in a shoe factory - a nod, I presume, to the fact that Charles Dickens, when his father was incarcerated in the Marshalsea Prison, had been sent to work at a blacking factory - before, by way of a career path that is not actually explained, he ends up working at Fezziwig's bank, where we are treated to a number which could have come straight from Oliver, entitled, "Mr. Fezziwig's Annual Christmas Ball" and which features a jolly refrain that goes, "Rat ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta - OH!", and which seems to just go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on.

Having enjoyed the colourful spectacle of the endless, twirls, whirls, flips and pirouettes, the ghost fast forwards Scrooge a few years, when he an Marley have set up their own bank and he gets to show his gratitude to kindly old Mr Fezziwig for such a foot-stomping Christmas party, by foreclosing on him and driving him and his business into bankruptcy.

This heartless act is witnessed by his beloved fiancé, played by Jennifer Love Hewitt - and named Emily in this version, on account of the fact that Belle from the book had gone to Specsavers and had threatened legal action if they associated her name in any way with this adaptation - who promptly dumps him.

We also get to see Marley dropping dead in this version, perhaps to make up for the fact that they forgot to tell us he was dead: to begin with?

Jesse L. Martin, plays the role of the Ghost of Christmas Present and spirits Scrooge off to a Music Hall where he plonks him down amongst an audience, composed largely of extremely clean and very excitable Victorian street urchins, before taking to the stage and providing us with another musical number, entitled "Abundance and Charity." As the Ghost taunts Scrooge from the saftey of the stage, he is joined by a troupe of female dancers, dressed as red-clad toy soldiers, who treat us to a dance scene that leaves you open jawed.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is played by Geraldine Chaplain, who does it as a bizarre mime act, which soon becomes annoying. However, I have to say that this sequence involved an intriguing departure from previous film versions, in that we get to see the dead body of Ebenezer Scrooge, lying on his bed in the graveyard, whilst being stripped of his garments by the thieves.

And so, Christmas Morning arrives, Scrooge wakes up, determined to make amends and change for the better; and you feel your heart lift at the thought that the nightmare is almost over.

As Scrooge heads over to make his peace with the Cratchits, who, unless I missed something, appear to live just around the corner from him, he arrives at their front door to present them with a magnificent Christmas bird.

On coming to the door, Mrs Cratchit exclaims, "It's a prize turkey" and you can't be sure whether she's referring to the bird or the film that you've just sat through.

As the cast reassemble to give us a rousing final rendition of Christmas Together, the snow begins to fall and Scrooge hoists Tiny Tim onto his shoulder where he closes the film with the words that were, after all, written for him - "God Bless Us Every One."

A CHRISTMAS CAROL - 2009

With Jim Carey As The Voice Of Ebenezer Scrooge

In many ways I consider Ebenezer Scrooge to be a far more impressive character than Marty McFly.

After all, it took Marty three films to visit his past, present and future - or should that be his present, past, present, future, altered present, past, actual present, ancestral past and present - whereas Scrooge kept it simple by managing to visit his past, present and future in one night and one novella.

I mention this seemingly trivial observation on account of the fact that this 2009 version of the story, which stars the voice of Jim Carey, was brought to us by Robert Zemeckis who, of course, was the man who directed the Back To The Future trilogy.

And, since Zemeckis is, according to his IMDb page, a "whiz-kid with special effects", his version of A Christmas Carol held much promise.

Would Tiny Tim be the proud possessor of a hover crutch? I wondered. Would mad Doc Cratchit hurl Scrooge through time in a souped-up hansom cab? Would Scrooge punch anyone on the nose who dared to call him a turkey?

All these questions were swirling around inside my fevered mind as, with tremulous hand, I inserted the shiny, metallic disc into the strange little machine that - so the exceedingly eccentric gentleman, with the wild hair and the bulbous eyes, whom I had met by the town hall clock, had assured me - would make pictures come to life.

Zemeckis and his crew were able to make use of state-of-the-art 3D Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) to create an adaptation unlike any other - and the results, if I'm to be brutally honest, were mixed.

One of the great advantages that animation has over human-acted movies, is that the director can use the magic of the medium to do things that are impossible with the more traditional and commonplace methods of film making.

But, as is the case in so many of life's adventures, just because you can do something, doesn't mean you have to do it; and, when the impossible is made possible, restraint becomes an imperative.

But, I digress. Back to the future....sorry, film.

This adaptation oozes quality and atmosphere.

First off, it is genuinely creepy, and several of the ghosts are exactly what they should be, scary. And, I mean, really scary.

Indeed, so spooky are some of the scenes, that the reviews on Amazon are awash with parents awarding it a mere one or two stars, on the grounds that it traumatized their offspring; and, as a consequence, advising parental caution when allowing your own children to watch it.

Responsible parent that I am, I, therefore, heeded their advice, and sat down to watch it with my own two sons with an agitated finger poised over the pause button - just in case, as happened with Maureen of Wisconsin's daughter, they wet themselves when the ghost of Marley appeared on screen.

Although it was touch and go a few times, on the whole, they coped pretty well; my 21 year old son barely flinched, whilst my eighteen year old merely blanched slightly.

Just how creepy the film is going to be becomes evident from the outset, when the camera zooms out from the wizened, white face of a very dead Jacob Marley, his jaw bandaged shut, and two pennies covering his eyes.

As this horrible vision fills the screen, we glimpse a top-hatted figure, with straggly grey hair, and wearing a top hat, leaning over the coffin.

It is none other than Ebenezer Scrooge, and, I have to say, whatever technical wizardry Zemeckis and his animators used to bring the old curmudgeon to life succeeded in creating one of the scariest Scrooge's I've ever encountered.

Indeed, within moments of his sinister voice uttering, or in this case, snarling, the opening line, "Yes, quite dead", I'd found common ground with Maureen of Wisconsin's daughter, and was forced to hit the pause button in order to fetch a mop.

This opening sequence, which takes place at an undertaker's, is as gripping as it is terrifying, and it ends with Scrooge retrieving and pocketing the pennies from off Marley's dead eyes, observing to the shocked undertaker's boy that, "tuppence is tuppence".

We then follow Scrooge as he walks through the snowy streets of Victorian London, barging sundry pedestrians aside, and staring a group of carolers into fearful, awkward silence.

The recreation of the Victorian streets is breathtaking. In fact, it has the feel of an old 19th century Christmas card that has, somehow, come magically to life.

As the opening credits roll, the camera lifts us into the air, where we are treated to a stunning aerial tour over London, during which we look down on such familiar landmarks as St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London, the Mansion House (home of the Lord Mayor) and London Bridge (the one that's now in Arizona) - and the effect is simply spellbinding. I can honestly say that I have never seen the streets and people of Victorian London brought to such vivid life as they are in this title sequence.

With the opening credits finished, Zemeckis employs a wonderful device to show the passage of time - I won't spoil the surprise - and the words "Seven Christmas Eves Later" appear on the screen, as we see Scrooge counting his money in his counting house, whilst Bob Cratchit tries to warm his hands on a candle, whilst looking longingly at the padlocked coal box.

Nephew Fred - who is voiced by Colin Firth, and whose animated self looks so like Colin Firth that you wonder why they didn't just Photoshop him - or whatever the film equivalent is - into the scene and save on the cost of animation? - then arrives and extols the virtues of Christmas to his disagreeing, and disagreeable, uncle.

At one stage Bob Cratchit enters the room to listen in on Fred's eulogy and you are taken aback by the fact that he is much shorter than the other two characters. In fact, he's tiny, which sets you wondering how tiny Tiny Tim is going to be.

We move, briskly, through Scrooge's confrontation with the charity collectors etc. etc. and even get to see Bob Cratchit go down a slide on Cornhill, just as he does in the book.

And then, Scrooge is approaching his house - which isn't "...up a yard " where it has "so little business to be" - as it is in the book - but is, rather, a grand house with its own creaking iron gates.

We get an unfamiliar "bugger it" from Scrooge, when he drops his keys on arriving at the front door; and a familiar, though exceedingly creepy, face of Marley, with his eyes closed, on the doorknocker when Scrooge, eventually, finds said keys and scrambles back to his feet. In this version, Scrooge even extends a curious, though cautious, hand to touch the face and, even though you instinctively know what's going to happen, you still jump out of your skin when it does happen.

Marley's arrival is, to say the least, dramatic; and his ghost is genuinely terrifying - ask Maureen of Wisconsin's daughter if you don't believe me.

Jim Carey voices the Ghost Of Christmas Past and chooses to give, what is otherwise an intriguing depiction of the character, a bizarre Irish lilt.

It is at the end of this sequence that Zemeckis's restraint deserts him for the first time as we watch Scrooge rocket moonward through the night sky before plummeting earthwards to land, with a heavy thud, on the floor of his room.

But then, the Ghost Of Christmas Present appears, voiced by Jim Carey again, but this time adopting an equally bizarre Scottish accent, well it's a Scottish accent to begin with, and then it suddenly changes to a Yorkshire or Lancashire accent.

We are then treated to another aerial flight over London, which seems to lack the vibrancy of the opening sequence, either that or the thrill and novelty of the CGI animation is beginning to wear thin.

The ghost takes Scrooge to the Cratchits' Camden Town hovel where we see a, to begin with at least, strangely mute Tiny Tim, carried in on his father Bob's shoulder.

In all honesty, this scene just doesn't work, and you begin to realise the restrictions of computer generated wizardry. This scene required a pathos that, at present at least, only human actors can portray and the animated characters are more annoying than poignant.

We get no sense of Tiny Tim's character or ailment - as we do, for example when we're "introduced" to Anthony Walters portrayal in the George C. Scott version - and the whole scene is just rushed.

As the ghost of Christmas Present prepares to bid Scrooge farewell, Scrooge notices a foot or a claw protruding from beneath the spirit's robe and enquires what it is; whereupon the ghost opens his robe to reveal the two children, Ignorance and Want. Unfortunately, the historic mood of the scene is spoiled somewhat by the boy's telling Scrooge to "naff off"; a decidedly un-Victorian expression, that really shows his Ignorance of the fact that the phrase wasn't actually coined until the 1960's!

Suddenly, the computer wizardry comes into its own again, as we see the ghost age dramatically and alarmingly, just as he does in the book, and we watch as the two children lurch forward as criminally-inclined adults, who taunt Scrooge with his own words about prisons and workhouses. It's fantastically done.

Since the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a none speaking part, we are spared Jim Carey demonstrating his dialectic dexterity by attempting a Welsh or Cornish accent, and we are treated to another wonderful sequence where we really do get the feel of old London - at least, at first we are.

But then you get the distinct impression that Robert Zemeckis thought, "I've got all this really expensive software knocking around, why don't I see what this baby can do?"

And thus are we thrust headlong into what can only be described as an extended, 3D theme park ride, that consists of a series of rollercoaster-like chases, during which Scrooge is pursued through the streets by a horse drawn hearse; is reduced to a mouse-sized figure, and is sent tumbling through drain pipes and sewer pipes; as well as over rooftops and washing lines - all of which was done, as far as I can tell, for no other reason than to show off the 3D.

Indeed, the only thing missing from this overlong, and unnecessary scene, is the bit in which mini-Scrooge falls through a crack in the floor of Poet's Corner, in Westminster Abbey, to encounter Charles Dickens, revolving at break-neck speed in his grave!

We then follow Scrooge through his Christmas morning redemption, before Bob Cratchit does a news reporter-type piece to camera, in which he informs us that Scrooge was as good as his word etc. etc. and Tiny Tim, riding on Scrooge's shoulder, closes the whole affair with a joyous "God Bless Us, Every One."

All in all, this is a film of distinct contrasts. When it's good it's absolutely fabulous. But, when it's overdoing the 3D and CGI, it's tedious.

However, it sticks extremely closely to Dickens's 1843 story, unlike many dramatizations that have gone before it; and it's certainly an original and ground breaking adaptation in which the recreations of Victorian London more than compensate for the film's shortcomings.

Now, where did I park the DeLorean?

A CHRISTMAS CAROL - 2012

With Vincent Fegan As Ebenezer Scrooge

I can't be certain, but I should imagine that the casting advert for this adaptation read something like:-

"Wanted - actors to play in a new dark and ghostly version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, must be clinically depressed."

In what is described as "the darkest, most ghostly version of this story ever made" Jason Figgis presents us with a version of the Dickens Christmas classic that is, to put it kindly, "unique."

It opens with a wonderfully creepy score played against an eerie tableaux of pastel illustrations that, for a story that is so rooted in early Victorian London, are surprisingly rural in their settings.

As the credits fade, the words "London, December 1843" appear on the screen, and we watch as an agitated, elderly gentleman ascends a creepy staircase in a large, creepy mansion and enters a sparsely furnished room to be met by a man whom he calls "George", but about whom we are destined to learn nothing more.

Sitting down, the agitated, elderly gentleman makes known the purpose of his visit by proudly holding aloft a large, ledger like tome which, so he informs his companion, is "my latest creation, finished this very morning", adding "you are to be my audience."

Thus do we realise that we are about to have the honour of hearing the tale fresh from the horse's mouth, as it were, for the agitated, elderly gentleman is none other than Charles Dickens himself.

Except, and I hate to be picky about this so early on, Charles Dickens was just 31 years old when he wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843. I know he'd had a hard life, but still...

Anyway, you can forgive a little artistic license with the author's appearance since we're promised a "dark version of the classic Dickens tale."

And so, Dickens begins his narrative about Marley being dead etc. etc. and we suddenly find ourselves in Scrooge's Counting House, which looks suspiciously like the large room that we just left Charles Dickens sitting in.

Not to worry, because there he is, Vincent Fegan as Magwit.... err sorry Ebenezer Scrooge.

But, therein lies the problem with this adaptation, it's a master class in miscasting.

Vincent Fegan looks more like Magwitch from Great Expectations than Dickens famous old skinflint.

Furthermore, he puts so little effort, or emotion, into delivering his lines that you get the distinct impression he's just reciting them off an autocue.

As we meet the rest of the cast, and the well known and beloved characters appear before us, you suddenly realise that you're witnessing the most depressing version of the tale ever made, so much so that you expect the words "sponsored by Prozac" to appear on the screen at any moment.

Nobody seems in the least bit happy. Not nephew Fred. Not the two charity collectors. Admittedly, Bob Cratchitt does make a brief attempt at jocularity, but then he realises his mistake and quickly assumes a sullen countenance that he masterfully maintains for the remainder of the production.

In fact, the least morose cast member is the unreformed Scrooge, so much so that you're left wondering if the spirits shouldn't just leave well alone.

But no. A Christmas Carol wouldn't be A Christmas Carol were the ghosts not to, at least, appear to make an effort and so we watch as Scrooge heads home to begin his Christmas Eve hauntings, where even his doorknocker appears unable to summon up any enthusiasm for its brief part in the story.

As he enters his humble abode - which, just like the streets of London before it, boasts a surprisingly rural appearance - you suddenly find yourself sensing a distinct feeling of déjá vu.

Hang on, you think, it's the house we left Charles Dickens reading aloud in, and the house where we first met Scrooge, not fifteen minutes since, and from which he just headed home to arrive at. This is getting surreal.

The encounter between Scrooge and Marley is decidedly lackluster.

The ghost of Christmas past is so feminine and pretty, that you almost fall off your chair when she addresses Scrooge in a deep and masculine voice.

When she/he takes Scrooge back to his past you are not in the least bit surprised that Scrooge's school room and Fezziwig's office look eerily familiar.

Fezziwig himself is as far from the life and soul of the party as it is possible to be.

Indeed, his Christmas largesse extends to a small glass of sherry for his two apprentices and a half hearted "merry Christmas" delivered with such little enthusiasm that you can't help wonder if Mrs Fezziwig, who is conspicuous by her absence, hasn't gone and run off with the butcher and taken the entire Christmas feast with her.

And, in essence, that is the mood of the remainder of this re-working of the Dickens classic. Even Brendan O'Carroll who appears in the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come scene, fails to raise a smile and, as the final credits roll, you're left wondering if you should pick up the phone and call the Samaritans in order to lift the mood.