Steven Knight’s new BBC drama A Christmas Carol remoulds Charles Dickens’s classic into a darker, more troubling tale of wickedness, and is sure to be an offbeat festive highlight – but really, I don’t care about any of that.
From the start, my main interest in this three-part, exhaustively researched, painstakingly written, cast, costumed and set designed piece of art has been but one thing – Scrooge is hot now.
As played by Guy Pearce, an Australian heart-throb, formerly number 17 in E’s Most Sexiest Men in Entertainment 2002 list, this is by far the sexiest Ebenezer Scrooge ever committed to screen. Yes, you may throw your “Michael Caine in a Muppet Christmas Carol”s at me, and I take your point (and please do vote for your own personal Most Seductive Scrooge below), but there’s a clear difference here – Pearce’s Scrooge is canonically younger and hotter than misers past, as Steven Knight recently told one of my colleagues.
“With Guy you’ve got an attractive man in the prime of his life and it really does mean that you ask the question more profoundly ‘Why is he like this?’” Knight told RadioTimes.com.
“’He could have a really great life so what is he doing?’ That’s part of the reason for casting someone like Guy, to really begin to explore why someone like that would behave like that.”
Director Nick Murphy added: “I wanted Scrooge to have swagger – we all did – and I wanted him to be young enough to have a life left to use in a different way.”
So hot Scrooge is here, and he’s meant to be hot – and the more I’ve thought about this, the more everything has been called into question.
Had my prejudice, informed by a century of adaptations, movies and parodies, cast Scrooge in the wrong light all this time? After all, Sherlock Holmes never wore a deerstalker in Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, while Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula had a moustache and never donned a cape – so had the original, pure, and attractive Scrooge also been similarly miscast and maligned by popular culture?
In other words – has Scrooge always been a total hunk?
Immediately (/around 3 months later, when I had time) I turned to Dickens’s original text, looking for references to Ebenezer’s rippling abs, cut-glass jawline and beautiful, swimming eyes – but I was disappointed.
Sure, there’s an argument that power is inherently sexy, and it could be that wealthy old Scrooge attracted an eye or two in that regard – but in terms of his personal appearance, Dickens is pretty clear that he’s no looker.
“The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice,” Dickens writes.
“A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin.”
Phwoar – what a silver fox. But somehow, this Roald-Dahl-in-The-Twits-esque nonsense about inner meanness transfiguring into outer ugliness doesn’t ring true for me any more.
Just think about it – how many really hot people have you met who are total d**ks? All good-looking people are terrible, famously, because they’re playing life on “Story Mode” with extra power-ups and have it too easy. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of ravishing a***holes just as greedy or self-centred as Scrooge – but they still manage to keep their abs and their tans on point.
Or, as Steven Knight put it: “I didn’t want Scrooge to look like Scrooge, because people don’t necessarily look like their souls.”
And maybe, just maybe, this canonically sexy new Scrooge is a truer representation of the character that Dickens created. Because if you read Scrooge as hot throughout a Christmas Carol, there are so many more levels to the text.
Yes, people hate Scrooge because of his miserliness – but maybe they also resent his toned physique and gorgeous eyes. That first job at Fezziwig’s? Landed a lot easier when he turned up to the interview looking like a tall drink of water.
Sure, his relationship with Belle broke down because of his obsession with work – but who’s to say it wasn’t also because he kept checking himself out in the mirror at inopportune moments, or spent too long crushing it in the gym instead of spending time with her? Bench press us, every one!
And when Scrooge finally unleashes that pearly, million-dollar smile at the end of the book, after the ghosts have encouraged him to turn over a new leaf? Well, it’s no wonder everyone’s happy to have him dropping off geese and inviting himself to Christmas dinner. Talk about The Ghost of Christmas yet to YUM!
While this remoulding of an unattractive literary figure into some kind of sex God might seem extreme, it has been done before. To return to Count Dracula, in Stoker’s novel he was an absolute dog with a receding hairline and weird lips. Today, nearly every onscreen Dracula is younger and a total heartthrob, and it would be unthinkable to try and cast a Dracula who actually looked like Stoker intended. So why not allow Scrooge his own glow-up?
Today, thanks to Steven Knight and Guy Pearce, the Overton window of Scrooge sexiness has been dramatically shifted, and all we need to do now is avoid any knee-jerk, elderly Scrooge castings in future adaptations to keep things moving in the right direction.
Just to be clear, Scrooge is hot now – and that’s how he needs to stay. Phwoar humbug!
A Christmas Carol begins on Sunday 22nd December at 9pm on BBC One and continues on Monday 23rd at 9:05pm and 9pm on Christmas Eve