A Christmas Carol, BBC One (4 stars)

A Christmas Carol, BBC One

A visceral and gritty version of Dickens' classic festive chiller

Sensationalist organs of the press have already been in predictable uproar over the use of crude language in this brand-new take on A Christmas Carol. For the rest of us, hearing Stephen Graham's Jacob Marley and Guy Pearce's Ebenezer Scrooge go full pelt on profanities that were invented many centuries before the dawn of Victorian England, has a visceral surge about it. And in any case, they utter one 'fuck' each in the opening hour, hardly a torrent of filth.

This version of Dickens' seasonal chiller and marker of moral compasses is far from the nostalgia-tinged, Christmas card-friendly depictions of yore; hardly unexpected given that this comes from the adapting pen of Steven Knight, creator of Peaky Blinders and Taboo. Pearce is a younger than standard but still terribly moody Scrooge, who does utter 'bah, humbug' for those clinging on to the story's traditional catchphrases. While keeping Bob Cratchit (Joe Alwyn) away from his family on Christmas Eve, Scrooge denies all and sundry the pleasures of the season as he spits out accusations of hypocrisy.

But soon enough, his past misdemeanours catch up (Scrooge appears to be an architect of austerity at home and proponent of child labour in far-off lands) when his deceased business partner Marley dips in and out of purgatory to warn him of an impending unleashing of hell. Three spirits (Andy Serkis' Christmas Past, Charlotte Riley's Christmas Present and Jason Flemyng's Christmas Future) all do their bit to try and make their target repent and alter his miserly ways. But does Ebenezer's long, dark night of the soul lead him down a better path, or will Knight and co blindside us with a less heart-warming ending?

However it winds up, this remoulding of A Christmas Carol is a welcome and wintry depiction of torment. The screen is drained of colour, greys, whites and blacks all dominant, with the only brightness coming from orange flames of a blazing pyre or shimmering candle as Scrooge's destiny prepares to be sealed.

Episodes watched: 1 of 3

A Christmas Carol airs on BBC One, Sunday 22 December, 9pm; Monday 23 December, 9.05pm; Tuesday 24 December, 9pm.

A Christmas Carol

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • UK
  • 3h
  • Directed by: Nick Murphy
  • Cast: Guy Pearce, Tom Hardy, Andy Serkis, Stephen Graham, Charlotte Riley, Joe Alwyn, Vinette Robinson, Jason Flemyng
  • UK release: 22 December 2019

Guy Pearce is Scrooge in this BBC miniseries adaptation of A Christmas Carol.