Thursday, December 20, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Albert Finney (1970)

The musical Scrooge has no transition scene between Scrooge's room and the countryside. There's a simple fade from one to the other. Before we even see Scrooge and the Spirit there though, we're treated to a long caravan of wagons filled with sweetly singing children.

The song they're singing is the same as the one that played over the film's opening credits:

Sing a Christmas carol
Sing a Christmas carol
Sing a Christmas carol
Like the children do

But as they sing, they also work in other children's songs like "London Bridge is Falling Down" and "Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush." It's a lovely medley and the kids are all dressed in costumes: harlequins, faeries, princesses, knights, and animals. There's even a carrot and a turbaned character that may be a reference to the Arabian Nights stories that Dickens mentions in the book.

Instead of asking if Scrooge remembers the place, the Spirit asks if he remembers the children. He says that he does. "All of them." And he recognizes a very young Fan in one of the wagons. It's when he calls to her that the Spirit informs him that these are but shadows.

Scrooge looks disappointed to see them ride around the next bend, but his wistfulness quickly turns to resentment. "I could never join those Christmas parties," he grouses.

This is going to be one of the toughest Scrooges to change. He never quite bought that Marley's ghost was real and he's continued being grouchy with Christmas Past. He doesn't cry in this scene or at the school; he's just grumpy and bitter. He doesn't grieve over the injustice of his childhood; he's angry about it.

After Scrooge's comment about not going to the parties, the Spirit brings up the school. It sounds like a non sequitur, but it's not. "The school is not quite empty, is it?" The reason Young Scrooge couldn't go to the parties is because he was stuck in school. And then the Spirit says something really interesting: "A solitary boy neglected by his family is left there still." Not neglected by his friends, but by his family.

When we cut to the school and Young Scrooge looking longingly out a window, we can still hear the kids singing in the background. So as Dickens implied, the school is in the same area as Scrooge's family, because Fan is out there with the other children celebrating within earshot of Young Scrooge. His father is just that mean that he's going to keep Scrooge at school over the holidays rather than let him come home, even though the family lives close by. Horrid.

We don't see Young Scrooge interacting with any other children, so we don't know what his relationship is with them, but this version doesn't care about that. It's all about Scrooge's family; particularly his father.

Old Scrooge and the Spirit go into the school and find Young Scrooge reading (though we're not told what and there's no mention of the characters coming to life). The school is sparsely furnished, but it looks kept up well enough. And Fan was dressed well, too, so I don't see evidence that Scrooge's family is poor.

As mean as this Scrooge still is, he does have a soft moment as he looks on his former self. He calls himself a "poor boy" and mentions that he should have given the carolers something the night before. His remembering himself as a victim has created some empathy, but he's still super grouchy about it and impatient when the Spirit asks questions.

She moves on, inviting him to look at another Christmas. An older Fan (maybe 15 now?) comes in and tells an older Scrooge (maybe 17?) that she's come to bring him home. She says that Father is kinder and that Scrooge is to spend the whole Christmas break at home, but there's no mention that Scrooge is going to work afterward and won't return to the school. That doesn't necessarily mean anything, but I've always been uneasy about the declaration that Scrooge's dad is yanking the boy out of school to put him to work. Even if the school is miserable, sending Scrooge into the world seems less like a kindness and more just an acknowledgment that it's time for Scrooge to grow up. Although maybe any kind of acknowledgment of Scrooge by his father is a relatively kind act. If the omission of that detail in this version is intentional and important, it reflects well on the father that he really is just letting Scrooge come home and celebrate the holidays with the family.

Since Fan is younger than Scrooge, their mother can't have died giving birth to the boy. In fact, Mom isn't mentioned at all - just like she's not in Dickens - so we can only imagine what Dad's problem has been with young Ebenezer.

There's no schoolmaster in this version. Fan and Young Scrooge rush out of the room, leaving Old Scrooge and the Spirit behind to discuss Fan and her future son. Scrooge gets especially cranky during that. He doesn't want to talk about Fred. To her reference to children he shouts "One child!" at her. And she sternly concedes, "Your nephew," before pointing out the window at the next Christmas she wants him to revisit.


Caffeinated Joe said...

Funny how the musical version seems to have one of the crankiest versions of Scrooge. One would think it would be leaning toward a lighter tone. The rest of the scene seems decent.

Michael May said...

I would expect the same thing, but yeah... this version gets really dark in places. There's even a scene in Hell towards the end.


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