Wednesday, December 24, 2014

“If Quite Convenient, Sir" | Patrick Stewart (1999)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

As the charitable solicitors leave Scrooge's office, they pass a small group of carollers serenading next door. TNT's Christmas Carol often makes an effort to present the story in a new way, so their carol isn't "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," but the more obscure "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks."

The group gets a donation from their audience and the youngest member mischievously announces, "I'm gonna try Scrooge's!" The others warn him against it, reinforcing the idea from earlier that Scrooge has a reputation in this part of town. The boy's determined though, so off he goes and starts up "Good King Wenceslas" as a solo act at Scrooge's door.

Cratchit is the first to hear him and his look is pure shock, like he can't believe his ears that anyone would have the gall. Scrooge tries to ignore it at first, but the film's score introduces chilling strings that grow in intensity and become more unsettling, letting the audience feel Scrooge's irritation at the song. When Scrooge finally grabs a ruler from his desk and gets up, it's actually a relief. The strings continue though until Scrooge opens the door and rears back the ruler with a growl. He looks like he's truly going to beat the kid, though he stays his hand and lets the whippersnapper run off, pursued by his shrieking friends. I get the feeling that the kid never thought he'd get a donation from Scrooge, but was simply testing his own bravery.

When Scrooge goes back inside, the clock is chiming 7:00. He verifies against his own watch and silently starts to put on his coat. In the background, Cratchit is up and doing the same thing. These are men who work together, but communicate as little as possible.

Still, there's a matter to attend to and Scrooge brings it up. Cratchit says, "If it's convenient, sir" with a bit of a smirk, not that Scrooge is looking at him. That moment perfectly defines their relationship. Richard E Grant's Cratchit has some gumption with his boss, but it's not the annoying kind like in Rankin-Bass' The Stingiest Man in Town. Mostly that's because Patrick Stewart's Scrooge is a stronger, more complicated character than Walter Matthau's.

Stewart's is defined by severe isolation and loneliness, but it seems to be something that he's intentionally brought on himself. Since he truly wants to be left alone, it's hard to feel sorry for him when people steer clear. Stewart's a great enough actor that he still generates some pity, but I can't fault Cratchit for getting irritated with the old man or getting in his digs where he can. There's some swagger in his "It's only once a year, sir." He knows he's won this argument and he's not afraid to be pleased about it.

At the same time, he does his best not to be too obnoxious. Scrooge sounded serious earlier when he threatened Cratchit's job, so this isn't a match of equals. When Cratchit starts to wish Scrooge a Merry Christmas, he catches himself and stops. Scrooge challenges him. "You were about to say something, Cratchit?" But Cratchit's smart enough to say, "Nothing, sir" even though he's smiling at his own mistake. I quite like him.

Scrooge goes out first and we stay with Cratchit just long enough to see him pick up the keys and blow out the last candle. We've already had some Christmas street scenes and the film doesn't need a sliding scene for Cratchit either. The sliding scene is usually to show us that Cratchit has a joyful life away from Scrooge, but this production has already implied that by giving him a sense of humor and an independent spirit even in the office. It's going to leave Cratchit for now and have us follow Scrooge as his adventure begins.
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