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A Christmas Carol episode 3 review: Steven Knight rewrites Dickens with a surprising and satisfying finale


A Christmas Carol came to a surprising and satisfying conclusion (Picture: BBC/FX)

*Warning: This article contains spoilers for A Christmas Carol episode 3*

The BBC’s dark retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol by Peaky Blinders scribe Steven Knight came to an end tonight – with a surprising twist that rewrote the tale as we know it.

For the past three nights, we’ve followed the traditional story of miser Ebeneezer Scrooge (Guy Pearce) who suffers a dark night of the soul as he’s visited by three ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future to help him change his ways.

From the very first moment of the very first episode, we’ve seen Steven Knight attempt to present the story we think we know in a slightly newer way. That promise came to full fruition tonight.

After last night’s shocking revelation that Scrooge had a deep-set childhood trauma from being abused by his schoolmaster, we went into tonight’s finale with a deeper understanding of Scrooge and the tragedy that made him into the man he is today. 

Another controversial addition to the plot was also quickly addressed in the episode; it emerged that Scrooge, not a fictional rich American cousin, had paid for Tiny Tim Crachit’s life-saving operation, and it was hinted that Mary Crachit had got the money for Scrooge after agreeing to have sex with him on Christmas Day. 

This all proved, however, to an insidious duplicity on Knight’s behalf, however – it had all been an ‘experiment’ to Scrooge, who just wanted to see just how far Mary would go in order to save her son. As much as it was uncomfortable viewing, it was essential for us to see just how twisted Scrooge had become, his traumatic childhood instilling in him a sociopathic need to test the limits of human decency. 

But, this aside, we all know that the one thing we all look forward to in an adaption of A Christmas Carol are the ghosts, right? The padding between the three seemed quite uneven, but the most interesting thing about the character of Scrooge is his past – we already know the details of his present and even viewers most unfamiliar with this story know his future. 

Vinette Robinson was a revelation as Mary Crachit (Picture: BBC/FX)

There was yet another interesting diversion from the source material, however, in the figure of the Ghost of Christmas Present, who was played by Peaky Blinders veteran Charlotte Riley. The Ghost took the form of Scrooge’s sister Lottie, who we saw in the last episode save Scrooge from his abusive schoolmaster with a gun in her hand. 

Played with a steely determination by Riley (it really is nice to see her back on our screens) Lottie is a very necessary tonic to Scrooge – she’s the only character in the entire programme that he will actually listen to. 

But the most impressive part of A Christmas Carol – and, indeed, the best thing about Steven Knight’s re-writing of the text – is the shift in focus away from Scrooge and onto the people whose lives he has affected, most notably the Crachit family. 

Playing Mary Crachit, Doctor Who’s Vinette Robinson is truly the series’ hidden and most powerful weapon, outshining both main star Guy Pearce and on-screen husband Joe Alwyn in the final episode. She also turns out to be the most important character in the entire show – more powerful, even, than the ghosts themselves.

We spoke previously about how much of Steven Knight’s material – from Peaky Blinders to Taboo – sees bad men being unapologetically bad. This has changed in A Christmas Carol, however, as the wrath of Mary Crachit proves to be the most powerful force in the world. 

In Dickens’ source text, the reason for the ghosts appearing to Scrooge is never explained, the reader just takes it as divine intervention. Knight rewrites this, however, and the ghosts are actually revealed to have been conjured by Mary herself after her manipulation and humiliation by Scrooge. 

It’s a bold re-imagining and, I think, a necessary rewriting, echoing the show’s own allegorical sentiments that your actions have consequences. Only this time, Scrooge doesn’t have some nameless higher power to thank for his retribution, it’s the poverty-stricken housewife he used for his own entertainment. 

Did Scrooge get his comeuppance after all? (Picture: BBC/FX)

Best of all was the ending itself. We know, of course, how it ends – Scrooge is changed by his encounter with the ghosts and becomes a better man. Or…does he? Mary’s reaction to the news is very telling – as she announces to the spirits that there’s ‘still work to do’ whilst glancing directly into the camera.



Key Moments

  • Charlotte Riley’s steely and charismatic turn as Lottie Scrooge
  • Vinette Robinson’s expletive-filled monologue when she warns Scrooge she will ‘unleash spirits’ on him
  • That last, chilling look to the camera sent shivers through our spine

Verdict:

Any adaption of A Christmas Carol has to differentiate itself from what came before. In the absence of Muppets, however, came a deliciously dark retelling of a story we thought we all knew. From Scrooge’s harrowing backstory to the surprising revelation that rewrote the meaning of the text by giving a woman the power to conjure spirits and change lives, Steven Knight’s little Dickensian experiment came to a surprising and a mostly satisfying conclusion. The scribe is set to adapt a whole host of Dickens’ novel over the next decade so our next question is – what’s next?

A Christmas Carol is available to watch on iPlayer.



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