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A Christmas Carol (1977)

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol, adapted from the novella of the same name by Charles Dickens, is a one-off drama.  It was produced by the BBC and first broadcast on Saturday 24 December 1977 (BBC2, 6:30-7:30pm).

Overview

As part of its Christmas Eve programming for 1977, the BBC treated viewers to an adaptation of Dickens's classic ghost story, A Christmas Carol (1843), which takes place on the night before a Christmas in the previous century.  ZoŽ plays Belle, described in Dickens's story as 'a fair young girl', the lost love of notorious Victorian miser Ebenezer Scrooge.  When the Ghost of Christmas Past visits Scrooge, the elderly man has the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of his youth, including those that led to the breakdown of his relationship with the woman he loved.

Having revisited both his lonely schoolroom and first workplace, Scrooge is compelled to recall Belle in a painful flashback.  He watches his former fiancťe express deep sadness that his younger self has begun to attach greater significance to the pursuit of wealth than loving relationships.  'I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you,' reflects Belle sadly.  At this crucial moment in the drama, bright light falls on Belle's face to symbolise her goodness and virtue, while Scrooge hides in the shadows.



How could this principled young woman be expected to marry a man who seems incapable of understanding that money is only one of many sources of 'wealth'?  Belle's reluctant decision to break off her engagement to Scrooge brings dramatic changes to the lives of both young people.  The miser directs his energies towards hoarding money; his lost love focuses on family and friends, becoming the devoted wife of another man, never rich but certainly happy.

While Scrooge hardened his heart to the world long ago, the visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future help him to appreciate, at last, the value of festive cheer, as well as the importance of love and generosity.

Cast

Ebenezer Scrooge ... Michael Hordern
Marley's Ghost ... John Le Mesurier
Ghost of Christmas Past ... Patricia Quinn
Ghost of Christmas Present ... Bernard Lee
Ghost of Christmas Future ... Michael Mulcaster
Scrooge as a Young Man ... John Salthouse
Belle ... ZoŽ Wanamaker
Scrooge as a Schoolboy ... Dorian Healy
Fan ... Tracey Childs
Bob Cratchit ... Clive Merrison
Mrs Cratchit ... Carol MacReady
Martha Cratchit ... Zelah Clarke
Peter Cratchit ... David Ronder
Belinda Cratchit ... Claire McLellan
Tiny Tim ... Timothy Chasin
John ... Stephen Churchett
Fezziwig ... Will Stampe
Topper ... Christopher Biggins
Little Blonde ... Tricia George
Caroline ... Veronica Doran
Caroline's Husband ... John Grillo
Dick Wilkins ... Nicholas John
Fred ... Paul Copley
Fred's wife ... Maev Alexander
Mrs Dilber ... June Brown
Undertaker's Man ... David Hatton
Charity Gentleman ... John Ringham
Businessman ... Brian Hayes
Businessman ... Roy Desmond
Carol singer ... David Corti
Musician ... Paul Kegg
Narrator ... Brian Blessed

Crew

Writer: Elaine Morgan
Director: Moira Armstrong
Producer: Jonathan Powell
Production Designer: Barry Newbery
Script Editor: Betty Willingale
Costume Designer: Barbara Kidd
Makeup: Ann Ailes-Stevenson
Music: Herbert Chappell

Notes

Recalling her performance in A Christmas Carol, as part of an interview published by Classic Drama: The DVD Collection magazine to celebrate the programme, ZoŽ offered insights into Belle's role in Dickens's story:

'She is supposed to be Scrooge's Christmas past, the girl that he could and should have married, but didn't because of his own greed and obsession with making money.  Scrooge is lacking in humanity and love and rejects love for his work.  Belle represents the life that Scrooge could have had.  She represents love, warmth, home, children and a happy, fulfilled soul.'

In addition, ZoŽ explained what attracted her to the BBC's adaptation:

'The hook for me was the opportunity to work with Michael [Hordern], somebody so extraordinary.  The criterion for me is always to work with people I respect, and Michael was at the peak of his powers at the time, and the same goes for John Le Mesurier.  They were both great actors.  It was an inspiring atmosphere on the set.'

The cast approached the programme in much the same way as they would rehearse a play, drawing on skills they had developed for the stage.  As Zoe commented, she very much enjoys this method of working:

'It was great, we worked quite slowly and carefully and examined the characters and the scenes we were doing.  We had the time to do it and build up relationships.  We transferred everything we did in the theatre into television script.  We did it as though we were doing a theatre production.'

In a reflection of its enduring appeal, A Christmas Carol is available to watch at the BFI Mediatheques, which host collections of classic, cult and other noteworthy programmes and films, in London, Cambridge and elsewhere in the UK.

Several years before A Christmas Carol was broadcast, ZoŽ appeared in another BBC programme about the festive season, A Christmas Collection (1972).

Press coverage

The BFI's Screenonline, a detailed guide to British television history, praises A Christmas Carol as 'one of the most faithful and enjoyable' adaptations of Dickens's novella, 'notable for its strong cast'.  It emphasises that Zoe's Belle 'is highly affecting in her sadness'.

Merchandise

A Christmas Carol is included in The Charles Dickens Collection Region 2 DVD.  The programme has also been released on Region 2 DVD with Dutch subtitles, Region 4 DVD and PAL VHS video, but those items now appear to be quite difficult to find.

The Classic Drama: The DVD Collection magazine partwork devoted an issue to A Christmas Carol, accompanied by a Region 2 DVD of the programme.  Again, those items now appear to be quite difficult to find.

Related links

Screenonline: A Christmas Carol programme details

IMDb: A Christmas Carol programme details

Project Gutenberg: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - full text and contemporary illustrations


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