Defending A Christmas Carol in the fuming face of Peter Hitchens

Politics out. Here instead are a few thoughts about what has passed before these occasionally boozed softened eyes over Christmas.

The unexpected treat has been catching up with Paddington 2, just the perfect family film: genuinely hilarious and made with beautiful visual wit. Ben Whishaw (“voice only”, as it says in the Radio Times) does a lovely bit of ventriloquism as Paddington, the lovable, chaos-cuddled bear.

In this outing Paddington ends up in the clink, where he is befriended by “Knuckles” McGinty (Brendan Gleeson, wrapped in a duvet beard). Hugh Grant has a ball as the villainous thespian Phoenix Buchanan, the man responsible for sending Paddington down.

The new A Christmas Carol adaptation from Steve Knight, the writer of Peaky Blinders, stirred up a blizzard of indignation, most of it from Peter Hitchens boiling his kettle dry in the Mail on Sunday. Here is the beginning of his column…

“The BBC plans to rewrite Charles Dickens tonight, complete with the f-word and a scene showing a character urinating on a grave. It has no right to do so.”

Here, with apologies, is more: “…most of us have been clobbered into submission by the Corporation’s revolutionaries by now. Either we take what we are given, or we know better than to watch in the first place.”

Boy, Hitchens was cross, but then you don’t get a column in the Mail on Sunday unless you are perpetually pissed off about something or other, preferably the BBC.

As you might expect he trundled out that battered old line about how good Alastair Sim was in the film Scrooge. Peter, that came out in 1951, we can’t stay frozen to that interpretation for ever.

“Don’t watch this poison,” he spluttered towards the end of his column, possibly before going for a lie-down.

What nonsense. This was a thrilling adaptation, a little slow to settle it is true, but the third instalment was a brilliant arranging of all the broken pieces.

It beats me why people become so cross about everything. There is little point in putting on A Christmas Carol unless you do something different. Otherwise you might as well show that old Alastair Sim movie and give Peter Hitchens a security blanket.

Guy Pearce offered a different Ebenezer Scrooge, younger than is usual, good looking and charismatic, yet a cold nihilist too, a venture capitalist who weighs capital in souls.

A Christmas Carol is such a robust and good story it can take any number of interpretations. By the end of this one, Scrooge had been transformed into a good man, even if the Cratchits were wary of the change in his personality.

Visually this was astonishing at times, especially in that last episode, with Tim Cratchit falling through the ice in the ceiling above where Scrooge sat in his lonely house. And don’t tell Peter Hitchens, but 10-year-old Lenny Rush was the best Tim there’s been.

This Christmas Carol also attracted criticism for casting a black actor, Vinette Robinson, as Mary Cratchit. The usual suspect whinge-buckets lined up to groan about political correctness, almost certainly having gone mad.

Here are two ripostes to that charge.

One is that such mixed-race marriages did exist in Dickens’ time, a point well made on Twitter by Kate Lister, of Leeds Trinity University and the Whores of Yore website. Kate helpfully ran a series of historical photographs of such couples.

The second is that with artistic licence, anyone can play anyone; it’s all artifice anyway, and so long as an actor can pull you into the story, what does it matter?

Vinette Robinson was wonderful in a key role, a woman abused and belittled by Scrooge, but who then exacts a surprising revenge. Her scorn alone was worth the price of entry.

The return of Gavin & Stacey was watched by nearly 12 million people and most of them should have left feeling happy. Not everyone gets this sentimental comic drama, but once acceptance arrives, it is hard to resist, and this return after 10 years was as sweet and sour as ever.

Gavin and Stacey, always bit players in their own story, are going off the boil romantically after three kids, but then find their spark again.

Smithy returns to Barry for Christmas, trailing a posh and frightful fiance, but not before old romantic habits trip him up. Nessa emerges briefly from that brutal shell she constructs in order to hide her true feelings. But it all ended with those true feelings being spoken.

I admit that the thought of having to watch James Corden again put me off, but it all went down sweetly in the end.


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