The character of Ebeneezer Scrooge is one of celebrated Victorian author Charles Dickens’ most famous creations. Known for his miserly behaviour, disregard for others and hatred of Christmas cheer, the A Christmas Carol protagonist eventually undergoes a dramatic change because he is confronted by a number of ghostly apparitions.
The 1843 novel has long been a Christmas classic, and today remains one of the most-adapted and longest-running winter-time stories, enjoyed by people across the world as a reminder of the importance of kindness and generosity. Though many adaptations have been attempted, both on stage and screen, only a handful still endure as striking examples of the timeless story. While some remain faithful to the text – such as the 1984 adaptation A Christmas Carol – others which are a little more off-piste, such as Scrooged starring Bill Murray, are no less entertaining.
Here’s our pick of 6 of the best adaptations of A Christmas Carol.
This adaptation is heralded by many as the best adaptation of Dickens’ novel to date. Alastair Sim plays Scrooge in a way that is both tragic and amusing, with his miserly behaviour being most aptly demonstrated as he shoos carolers, refuses extra bread and treats his poor employee Bob Cratchit with disdain. In particular, his redemption is spirited, childlike and hilarious to watch: he dances on his head, which terrifies his housekeeper, and laughs infectiously.
The film is also regarded as faithful to the original text, with a narrator played by Peter Bull reading out parts of Dickens’ works at the beginning and end of the film.
A Christmas Carol (1971)
Consisting of traditional, hand-drawn animation, this lesser-known 25-minute adaptation looks like the images from classic Victorian novels brought to life. Indeed, it is inspired by 19th century engraved illustrations of the original story and later 1930s pen and ink drawings. Alastair Sim reprises his role as Scrooge, and the script leans heavily into Scrooge’s introspection, often poetic, as he considers how he could have been kinder in the past.
The film is also considered to be one of the most frightening adaptations, since it is not aimed at young children and frequently leans into dark, heavy themes. Nonetheless, the short film went on to win an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film in 1972.
A Christmas Carol (1984)
This is perhaps the best-known adaptation of A Christmas Carol, starring George C. Scott (who was nominated for an Emmy for the role) and filmed in the historic medieval county town of Shrewsbury in Shropshire. Interestingly, it was directed by Clive Donner, who had worked as an editor on the 1951 adaptation. The film leans into religious iconography – for instance, Jacob Marley’s ghost appears beneath a painting of ‘The Last Supper’ – and Scrooge’s redemptive scenes are particularly notable.
Though perhaps not entirely traditional, Scrooged, starring Bill Murray, was shot using a huge budget over three months in New York City and Hollywood. Murray plays a Scrooge-like television executive who treats his employees poorly, and is then visited by various zany, larger-than-life ghosts. Murray reportedly did not enjoy his time on set, and frequently ad-libbed his script, which caused friction with the director, writers and producer. Nonetheless, the film was a box-office success.
Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (1988)
Though a parody of the original novel, Blackadder’s Christmas Carol is such a classic Christmas-time movie, and is indeed somewhat derived from the source material, that it warrants a mention. There is one key difference, however: Scrooge transforms from a kindly man into a miser, since he realises that ‘bad guys have all the fun!’ The film’s silly light-heartedness make the film a Christmas must-watch every year.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Though Charles Dickens likely didn’t imagine that his novel would ever be depicted by a talking frog, pig and rat, The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of the best-loved versions of the novel. Michael Caine as Scrooge – sometimes singing – is surrounded by Muppets in a film that is both hilarious and surprisingly tender at times.