Dickens at Christmas! A Christmas Carol: An Audible Original Drama

The Spirits of Christmas

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

It’s been my habit for many years to revisit Dickens’ best known Christmas story over the festive season each year. Sometimes this will be for a re-read but in recent years I’ve been enjoying some of the many adaptations of it in film or on audio. This year I went for Audible’s full cast dramatisation, having enjoyed several of their other productions. I knew going in that it had some great competition to beat – Patrick Stewart’s abridged narration has been my go-to for years, and Tom Baker’s unabridged version is up there at the same standard. But this one has Derek Jacobi as Dickens/the narrator, and anyone who’s read my reviews will know I am a huge fan of his audio narrations.

This follows the pattern Audible have been using for their Original Drama series of being part narration, part dramatisation. I love this approach. The dramatised elements make it a livelier listen which holds my attention better than even excellent straight narrations sometimes do, while the narrated bits allow for the depth and background that sometimes gets lost when a book is reduced to only dialogue in a full-scale dramatisation. It allows the listener to hear the author’s voice come through in the writing which, especially when the author is as brilliant as Dickens, is an essential.

Derek Jacobi

Jacobi is undoubtedly the star of this production, having by far the biggest role as narrator of the linking pieces between the relatively sparse dialogue. He is excellent, of course, but not having the chance to create any of the wonderfully larger-than-life characters meant I felt his talents were a tiny bit wasted. Personally I’d have preferred him to be performing Scrooge, especially since I felt Kenneth Cranham’s performance in the role was a little too understated for my taste. However that’s purely a subjective opinion – I love the big, booming, overblown performances of Stewart and Baker, but Cranham’s quieter interpretation may work better for many people. The division between narrator and main character in this dramatisation leaves Cranham with a far smaller role than either Stewart or Baker, since they have the fun of creating their own dramatic interpretation of the non-dialogue parts too.

Kenneth Cranham

All the other performances are good, with no weak links in the chain. The standouts for me are Jamie Glover as Bob Cratchit and Miriam Margolyes as The Ghost of Christmas Present. Glover’s Cratchit is less down-trodden than he is sometimes portrayed, somehow – I can’t quite put my finger on why, exactly, since as far as my not always reliable memory could confirm there were no changes to the words Dickens gives him. But Glover’s performance conveyed him to me as a strong, good-humoured man, limited by his poverty, but not broken by his miserly, bullying boss or the circumstances of his life. I enjoyed him very much.

Jamie Glover

Margolyes is an old hand at Dickens, not just appearing in many of the BBC serialisations over the decades, but also having performed in her one-woman show, Dickens’ Women, for some years (a wonderful performance that’s also available on audio and which I highly recommend). So she ‘gets’ him, and is not afraid to exploit the huge emotional range he allows to those who perform his work. For me, a successful Dickens performance is when I can imagine it might be done as he himself would have delivered it at one of his famous readings, and Margolyes is one of those actors who always achieves this. She frightened me and moved me – when she talked of Ignorance and Want I believed utterly that she meant every terrible, warning word, sadly as relevant today as when Dickens wrote them.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!”

Miriam Margolyes

If the adaptation by RD Carstairs is abridged at all, it must be very lightly. I noticed nothing missing and the running time is similar to an unabridged narration. It may be that there are minor changes to the order of some parts – there’s quite a lot of quick cutting between Jacobi’s narration and Scrooge’s inner thoughts as delivered by Cranham that worked very effectively to bring the two parts together. But there are certainly no significant changes to either tone or meaning and all the words, I think, are Dickens’ own.

So, in conclusion, a hugely enjoyable dramatisation which, while it might not quite have replaced Stewart or Baker as my favourite audio version, is certainly up there in contention with them. Highly recommended.

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

Merry Christmas, Everybody! 🎅

36 thoughts on “Dickens at Christmas! A Christmas Carol: An Audible Original Drama

    • I hope you can get hold of it – she’s wonderful at all these quirky, overblown Dickens characters, and despite the title, she does some of the men too – her Mr Bumble is a joy! 😀

  1. What we really need is a version that has both Jacobi and Stewart; or would two such huge personalities cancel each other out? I have been trying to remember if they were ever at the RSC at the same time, but I think Stewart had probably left for all things Star Trek by the time Jacobi joined the company. Merry Christmas FF.

    • Oh, that would be wonderful! Dickens must be a joy for actors – his characters are so deliciously original. I’d have loved to see them together in one of the big Shakespeares too. Hope you had a lovely, peaceful Christmas! 😀

  2. I’ve been listening to my first audiobook ever, David Copperfield narrated by Richard Armitage and I’m loving it. I find it hard to imagine listening to anyone else though. There’s just something about his voice …

    Have a wonderful Christmas! 🎄

    • Oh, that sounds wonderful! When the narrator is good it really can add something to the original, and so many great actors have narrated Dickens! I’m not sure if I’ve listened to any of Richard Armitage’s narrations – I shall look out for him.

      Hope you had a lovely Christmas, with lots of bookish delights! 🎅

      • Santa (me) bought me lots of lovely bookish delights. He (me) really spoiled me. But more importantly, there was wine and chocolate. Which made me think of you … wait … 🤔. Yes, it was a lovely Christmas 😉. Hope it was for you as well!

        • Santa (me) brought me lots of chocolate, and cake! And books, of course – he knows what would happen to him if he turned up without books… 😡

          Thank you! Yes, I had a peaceful, relaxing day, except for the over-excitement caused by the new cat toys which I’m now kinda wishing Santa (me) hadn’t bought… 😺😺

    • She’s fabulous – I have her narration of the whole of Bleak House to look forward to sometime when I have 40-odd hours to spare… 😀

      Hope you had a lovely Christmas, with lots of bookish delights! 🎅

  3. Merry Christmas, FictionFan! And thanks for this review. It is so interesting, isn’t it, how different performers can give the same character different personalities, if that makes sense. Those subtle nuances of verbal expression can make a difference. I’m glad you enjoyed this narration.

    • Merry Christmas, Margot – hope you had a lovely day! Absolutely, and I love that so many great actors seem to see A Christmas Carol as one of the essentials at a later stage in their career, like King Lear. Every performance brings something fresh to the book. 😀

    • Merry Christmas, L. Marie – hope you had a lovely day! I would love for Sir Derek to do a straight narration of the book one of these days – I might have to try to bribe him in some way… 😉

    • Thank you! And thanks for popping in and commenting. 😀 If you do get a chance to listen to this, I do hope you enjoy it as much as I did – she’s wonderful, and the rest of the cast are excellent too.

    • I love listening to A Christmas Carol in the run up to the big day. If you do get a chance to listen to it, I hope you enjoy it! Merry Christmas – I hope you had a lovely day, filled with bookish delights! 🎅

  4. I’ve just finished my annual read of A Christmas Carol, and later I’m going to watch the Sims version. Merry Christmas to one and all.

  5. I didn’t get to read The Christmas Carol until the days after Christmas but it was still a wonderful revisiting and a way to draw out the spirit a little longer too. Did you see Miriam Margolyes’ series on Dickens in America? I enjoyed her as much as the topic. Christmas blessings to you (and Big Sister). Somehow the idea of blessings is right in this season even without religious underpinnings.

    • I didn’t see the Margolyes series – I must look out for it! I love her, especially when she’s ‘doing’ Dickens. She’s one of a dozen or so actors who turn up repeatedly in adaptations and who seem to me to totally understand him and who make him approachable and appealing to newcomers. I managed to read A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve – a festive delight! Thank you for the blessings, Christine, and I’ll pass your good wishes on to BigSister too. And very best wishes to you for the coming year!

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