A Christmas Carol (2000)

Let it not be said this British TV version is short on ambition. Set in what was then modern-day London, it centers on "Eddie Scrooge," played by Ross Kemp. Eddie is a loan shark whose partner, Jacob Marley, was gunned down years earlier. The movie actually opens with a flashback to that event, though we don't learn who the killer is yet.

We then follow Eddie through Christmas Eve, as he collects on debts, harasses people, is dismissed by his ex, Bella, and is a jerk to his employee, Bob Cratchit. He also ignores his nephew's pleas to attend Christmas dinner, though there's at least a reason for their falling out: his nephew is a cop.

That night, Eddie sees an image of Marley appear in a poster asking for information about Marley's murder. Then Marley shows up in Scrooge's apartment. The meeting is brief, but - as you'd expect - he warns Eddie he'll be visited by three ghosts.

The first of said ghosts is Eddie's father, who punches his way out of Eddie's TV and takes him on a journey into the past. Eddie sees his mother's funeral, as well as several other moments from his childhood before it transitions to his relationship with Bella, a nurse who eventually breaks up with him because he's a horrible person who does horrible things.

Next, Eddie wakes up and discovers it's Christmas Eve morning again.

Oh, yeah - forgot to mention: in addition to A Christmas Carol, this is also an unofficial remake of Groundhog Day. After each visitation, Eddie relives December 24th. To be fair, there's technically a time loop in the original, albeit somewhat hidden. In the book, Scrooge witnesses the Christmas holidays with the Ghost of Christmas Present, then goes through the same Christmas as a changed man at the end. So there's precedent for this. Kind of. I guess.

Scrooge goes through the day making more or less the same choices as his previous run, then is once again visited by Jacob Marley's ghost. This transitions into the scene with the Ghost of Christmas Present, who is now... also Marley's ghost (Marley even cracks a joke about the double role). He shows Scrooge how the people he's been harassing are still enjoying Christmas. We also see the Cratchits trying to cope with Tim being in the hospital and Bob's marriage on the brink of falling apart. Mrs. Cratchit really doesn't like that her husband's working for a loan shark, but Bob can't quit due to owing Scrooge a great deal of money. Eddie's nephew is shown discussing him with his wife - we learn the reason he cares about Eddie is that after Eddie's sister died he took him in and raised him. This section ends by establishing a couple homeless teens who live nearby will die on Christmas Eve. It's supposed to be a spin on Want and Ignorance, I think.

Cue time-loop. Now Eddie is committed to changing his ways, but it's all superficial. He's doing good things, but his motives are selfish and his methods suspect. He's transparently trying to improve for his own benefit, as is apparent when he tries enlisting Bella to save the teens, rather than calling an ambulance. As a result, he fails to save the girl this cycle, and Bella sees through him.

He meets Marley again and we finally get the story behind the murder. Eddie didn't kill him, but he wasn't entirely innocent, either: he told the guy who murdered him where he'd be with the understanding Jacob would be roughed up and robbed. Then he kept the killer's identity secret to protect his own business (this doesn't really make sense, but sure). He admits all this to Marley's ghost, who it turns out already knew.

The Ghost of Christmas Future is a child Eddie thinks he recognizes but can't place. The kid is silent and leads Eddie around to various places, showing him the aftermath of Tim's death and the traumatic effect it has on Bob, who's also lost his marriage as a result of his association with Eddie. We also see people selling Eddie's belongings, and eventually we get to his sparsely attended funeral: only his nephew and Bella show up.

Eddie wakes a changed man, because that's the part of the story we're in. We're back at the start of Christmas Eve, but this time he's trying to make things better for others, rather than manipulating the situation to improve how he looks. Rather than openly giving out gifts others will be naturally suspicious of, he finds ways to give them what they need without being obvious. He fires Bob Cratchit fairly coldly, telling him writing off what Bob owes him is a small price to pay to be rid of him. Then he disguises a sizable cash gift to the family by forging a letter saying they won a lottery. He does similar things for others and anonymously saves the teens (though he's actually seen bringing them in to justify him and Bella getting back together). He also makes amends with his nephew and ensures Marley's killer will be caught.

Oh, and the Ghost of Christmas Future he recognized but couldn't place is the son he and Bella have in the future.

On one level, I appreciate the fact this is trying to do something new, both by updating the setting and transforming the narrative. It's incorporating modern time travel elements, which is appropriate, since many of those tropes originated in A Christmas Carol. The time loop is a weird choice, but - as I said above - it's not entirely out of left field. Likewise, the Ghost of Christmas Future being Scrooge's future child, while a bit hokey, makes for a surprisingly effective image of a silent child leading a terrified man on a journey (it's somewhat wasted with a few awful shots, but the theory's still sound).

On a less positive note, turning Scrooge into someone from a lower economic class leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The politics of the original are clear in their indictment of those who hoard resources and leave the less fortunate to suffer. Dickens's classic was a progressive work, a feature lost in this reimagining. That shouldn't be an automatic disqualification - adaptations should have the freedom to explore different themes - but I don't think any questions raised in this version come close to justifying the change.

I also felt like this failed to follow through on Marley's death. Really, Eddie Scrooge was culpable, both legally and morally, for the crime. He didn't intend for his friend to die, but he was still involved and withheld information from the authorities - Scrooge admits this himself. If the theme of this movie centers around redemption through real repentance and sacrifice, he needed to face actual consequences for his actions.

But of course that would have precluded a happy ending with Bella and their future son. I think this needed to choose one of those plot lines to drop for the movie to work. Either Scrooge shouldn't have been involved with his partner's death, or they shouldn't have included the ending where he becomes a father. I understand why these are both present - in isolation, the sequences between Scrooge and Marley are effective, and the stuff with his son pays off the set up in the Christmas Past section - but the two arcs clash.

All that said, this isn't bad, particularly for a TV movie. The cast is good, with Kemp's Scrooge and Ray Fearon's Marley being the main standouts. The pacing dragged at points, but with TV Christmas movies that more or less comes with the territory.

But fine or even good for a TV movie isn't exactly high praise. As I said in the opening, this thing is ambitious, setting out to completely overhaul A Christmas Carol and transform it into a modern, fantasy/time-travel crime drama. The end result makes for an interesting footnote in the history of adaptations, but it doesn't even approach the level of anything exceptional.