A Guide to Made-for-TV Christmas Carol Adaptations, Past, Present and Future

christmas-carol
Carson Kressley and Carrie Fisher in It’s Christmas, Carol! Photo: The Hallmark Channel

Some people love Charles Dickens’ immortal holiday classic A Christmas Carol.

Some of us aim a little lower.

Every December, KQED, TCM, BBC and all the other dignified networks air the most beloved adaptations of the celebrated novel for the holidays, including the Joseph L. Mankiewicz scripted 1938 American adaptation, 1951’s Scrooge (a film New York Times film critic A.O. Scott names as one of the best adaptations), the 1970 Albert Finney musical, not to mention Mickey’s Christmas Carol from 1983 (with Scrooge McDuck, obviously) and the 1992 Muppet adaptation with Michael Caine.

And then there’s the fare on Lifetime, WE, Hallmark, ABC Family and every other non-Masterpiece channel you can think of. An entire sub-industry in the made-for-TV-movie genre apparently exists solely to make updated versions of A Christmas Carol but, you know, starring a woman and entirely shot in Canada for under $100,000. For those of you that are tired of Victorian quaintness, overly-cherubic Tiny Tims and adaptations that stick too close to the source material, enjoy these not-so-traditional takes on Scrooge starring actresses of range and dramatic depth from Tori Spelling to Barbie.

A Diva’s Christmas Carol (2000)

Starring Vanessa Williams as “Ebony” Scrooge, a demanding pop diva that seems to be a little based on Diana Ross. Ebony’s story: she was once part of a girl trio back home (ahem) and abandoned the other two girls for fame and fortune. Insert plot of Dreamgirls as the fate of the other two. While climbing the show business ladder, Ebony becomes a cliche of a mean person, and holiday antics ensue. In a nice contemporary touch, Bob Cratchit is played as Ebony’s much abused personal assistant because apparently PAs are the new go-to for representing class struggle. It’s kind of fun to see Wilhelmina being exactly like she was on Ugly Betty but in a holiday context. Drawbacks? Anytime anyone else is on screen. Oh wait, strike that: Kathy Griffin is the Ghost of Christmas past. A Kathy Griffin made-for-TV-cameo is always a indicator that the gays behind the scenes at whatever family-friendly network this was made for were having some fun.

Ebbie (1994)

Starring Susan Lucci as Elizabeth “Ebbie” Scrooge. To my findings, this is the first made-for-TV gender reversal of Scrooge on record! If we were ready for a lady Scrooge in 1994, I think we’re more than ready to see women in other roles from Dickens traditionally played by men (I’m looking at you, possible Jennifer Lawrence as David Copperfield adaptation!). Ebbie owns a department store and is mean to everyone. This was understandable in 1994, as Lucci had yet to win that longed for Daytime Emmy for her role as Erika Kane on All My Children. Sadly, this performance too was overlooked by the television academy. After you watch, you’ll see why.

Ms. Scrooge (1997)

Starring Cicely Tyson as “Ebenita” Scrooge. While this version may not get to claim the distinction of first lady Scrooge on TV, it does get to be the first African American lady version of Scrooge in a TV film, so that’s something! Either Cicely Tyson is an amazing actress or she’s just an amazingly unhappy person in real life (we’re going to say amazing actress) because her Ebenita (the president of a loan company in this telling) is one of the meanest and most miserable depictions of the character ever portrayed. I think someone forgot to tell Ms. Tyson this wasn’t Pinter; she’s performing like this is a much better movie. Stop with the subtext, Cicely, your nuance is throwing this entire movie off balance! For a little levity, Mona fromĀ Who’s the Boss? is the ghost of Marley and she seems to be on loan from a different version altogether.

A Carol Christmas (2003)

Starring Tori Spelling as Carol Cartman. Get it? A Carol Christmas because her name is Carol! Tori Spelling picks up the torch as lady Scrooge with this telling about a talk show host who hates Christmas! Grrrr! Also, she is mean to everyone, so mean that only a visit from William Shatner and Gary Coleman as ghosts will scare the nice back into her! That would probably be pretty effective actually. If William Shatner and Gary Coleman materialized in my house and told me to stop being a miserable person, I know I’d ask myself some serious questions about my life choices. This is the best Tori Spelling performance since The House of Yes but not quite up to her work as Tori Spelling in So NoTorious. Also, do you get the feeling that when she’s trying to be mean in this movie she’s doing a Shannon Doherty impression?

It’s Christmas, Carol! (2012)

At first I wasn’t sure if Carrie Fisher was playing Scrooge or Marley, but it actually wasn’t that important. Just think about it: Carrie “Wishful Drinking” Fisher in a version of A Christmas Carol. That’s almost as good as my dream to one day remake It’s a Wonderful Life with Fran Lebowitz as Clarence the guardian angel, only in this version she points out how much more fun Bedford Falls was in the alternative timeline. Anyway, Carrie’s role is Eve (as in Christmas) and she’s an amalgamation of Marley Past, Present and Future due to “budget cuts.” I was pretty much won over that. This is up there with Drop Dead Fred when it comes to Fisher partially eye-rolling her way through a performance.

Barbie in A Christmas Carol (2008)

Starring a CGI Barbie as Eden Starling, our Scrooge stand-in. Part of the “Barbie in great roles of literature” series, the doll herself stars as a selfish Victorian actress loosely based on Ebenezer Scrooge. I feel like there’s a joke here comparing one of the other actresses to the CGI children’s toy (Tori Spelling would be the obvious candidate), but it’s Christmas, have a heart.

Kelly Clarkson’s Cautionary Christmas Music Tale (2013)

Kelly Clarkson’s Christmas special is billed as a take on Dickens with Kelly as a lady Scrooge. Break a leg, Kelly; here’s hoping you don’t end up like that other cautionary tale a.k.a. Carrie Underwood’s The Sound of Music Live.

Author

Tony Bravo

Tony Bravo is a San Francisco freelancer covering fashion, menswear, lifestyle and entertainment stories. He is a regular contributor to The Bold Italic and the San Francisco Chronicle's Style section.

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