Tuesday, December 25, 2018

“I Was a Boy Here!” | Patrick Stewart (1999)

Merry Christmas! We did it! Here's the last adaptation we're looking at this year. Thanks for joining me on this ride again.

Rather than having Scrooge and the Ghost pass through Scrooge's wall, TNT's Christmas Carol has the wall and floors dissolve around them until they're standing in a snowy forest. Scrooge has been trying his best to disbelieve so far, but he's amazed at what he's seeing. He says that he was a boy here, but nothing about being "bred." That could mean that his family's home is somewhere else and that this is just the region where Scrooge went to school, but let's see what else we can learn.

A small road cuts through the forest and Scrooge sees a series of small wagons pulling boys over a bridge and down the path. Scrooge recognizes the boys as old schoolmates and excitedly calls to them. I like how Stewart's Scrooge struggles to remember some of the names and how happy he is to come up with them. It's been decades of course since he's seen or probably even thought about any of them. Stewart is so good an actor that he simultaneously conveys wonder at what he's seeing and dismay that the boys aren't responding to him. The ghost explains that they're shadows who can't see or hear Scrooge, then - returning to his purpose for bringing Scrooge here - adds that the children are going home for the holidays. He doesn't wait for Scrooge to respond, but turns and walks up the road in the direction the boys just came from.

The film cuts to the exterior of an ornate, but crumbling old building that Scrooge recognizes as his former school. Some of the structure is in ruins, but inside it looks neat and kept up. There's nothing rundown about it. Likely it's just an ancient building and the school only occupies certain parts of it. Young Scrooge sits alone at a desk, just moping. He's not reading and this version says nothing about Scrooge's finding comfort in books.

Old Scrooge and the Spirit enter the room by the door and Scrooge walks over to sit and observe his younger self. He doesn't cry during any of these scenes, but he's clearly moved by the vision. The Spirit asks bluntly, "Why didn't you go home for Christmas?"

"I wasn't wanted," Scrooge says. "My father turned against me when my mother died. Sent me away. Didn't want to see me ever." Scrooge is hurt by the memory, but he doesn't want the Ghost's pity. When the Ghost says, "That's hard," Scrooge scowls and declares, "Life is hard!" He seems to look back on this suffering as a period of testing that he endured and triumphed through, emerging stronger on the other side. This is going to be another difficult Scrooge to change.

The Ghost lets it go and suggests that they see another Christmas. They stay in the same room, but their attention is drawn to a window where a young teen Scrooge paces aimlessly before hiding his face against a wall. He doesn't appear to be crying; it's more of a pout. Also indicating the passage of time are cracks that weren't in the schoolroom walls earlier. The place does look rundown now.

Old Scrooge perks up at the sound of footsteps in the hall and he says his sister's name just before his younger self turns to see her enter. She's called Fran in this version and I'm pretty sure one or two of the earlier versions used that name, too, though I wasn't sure and didn't call it out at the time. It's very clear in this one though. I don't know what that change is about.

Fran is younger than Scrooge by just a year or two. That adds a twist to Scrooge's explanation that his father turned against Scrooge when his mother died. Since she couldn't have died giving birth to Scrooge, there must be another reason for it. Perhaps Scrooge's father always had it in for Scrooge, but Scrooge didn't realize how much until Mom was gone and Father was left as the only parent. We can only speculate about why Scrooge's father didn't like Scrooge, because this version doesn't give us any more clues than Dickens did.

When Fran announces that she's come to take Scrooge home though, there's no mention of Scrooge's going to work after the holiday. She says that he's to stay home "forever and ever." So Father has either truly softened towards Scrooge, or he just hasn't filled in Fran on the complete plan yet. Again, there's no way to tell for sure, but I imagine that it's the latter.

The rest of the scene plays out like it does in Dickens, except that it leaves out the unnecessary schoolmaster. Fran leads Scrooge outside to the carriage and it's a nice, big one with two horses and a driver. Scrooge's father must be respectably well off.

As they drive out of the school's large gate, Fran leans her head sweetly on her brother's shoulder, though there's no way that Scrooge can see this, since he's not there. He and the Spirit have moved outside, but they're in the ruined part of the building as the Ghost starts the conversation about Fran and her "children." Once Scrooge confirms that the child is his nephew, he pauses and says, "Fred." He looks distracted and thoughtful. I don't know if he's remembering why he has a grudge against Fred or if he's realizing that he shouldn't. I suspect that it's the second option, since the film offers no solid reason for him to dislike Fred. At least not yet. I forget if we get something at the end, but the earlier scene in Scrooge's office suggested that Scrooge is angry about Fred's financial situation. That seems ridiculous, but could be a clue that Scrooge and Fred have simply made different choices in life - have learned different lessons from their hardships - and this could be what infuriates Scrooge. Seeing Fran as a girl again would of course soften Scrooge and make him reconsider his relationship with her son.

At any rate, this musing is interrupted by something that Scrooge sees ahead of him. The camera quickly pans over and we're in a nighttime city street outside a certain warehouse.

And that's it! Thanks again for reading. I'm already looking forward to next year when we get to visit Fezziwig's party. That's always one of my favorite, most festive scenes in the story.

Merry Christmas!


Caffeinated Joe said...

Love this version. You are right about Stewart, man can act a scene with just his facial expressions.

Thank you for another fun year. Can't believe it has already finished. Next year does sound like great fun.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Michael May said...

Thanks, Joe! Hope you had a wonderful holiday!


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