All About The 1951 “A Christmas Carol” Adaptation Starring Alastair Sim
(A note from the webmaster: Rather than being a review of the film, of which there are many online, this article focuses on the additions that the film made when adapting the novel. Also, although the original film is in black and white, and works beautifully so, the images on this site are in color for the sake of adding visual interest. I also do like the most recent colorized version released on DVD, from which they are taken.)
The 1951 film is widely regarded as one of the most faithful to Dickens’ story, yet it is actually is among those with the most changes! This is because the changes serve to illustrate something that Dickens only related about the character, without showing a scene that spelled it out. Whereas when most adaptations vary from the text they stumble in so doing, the extra scenes in Sim’s version only enhance the story. So integral to the film are the extra scenes, that many, when reading the book for the first time, are surprised to find that they are not in the book! Others swear they have read it before, but are only remembering the film.
When “Focus on the Family” produced their excellent audio adaptation of the book, they purposely incorporated some of the Sim’s scenes into their script, as they felt it helped round it out and feel more complete!
Below is a script excerpt for the very first scene in the film, and is one that illustrates Scrooge’s character most exquisitely, although not a scene in the book.
INT. THE LONDON EXCHANGE – DAY
Late afternoon on Christmas Eve, in the year 1843. The Exchange is packed with well-dressed businessmen who hurry up and down, and chink the money in their pockets, and converse in groups, and look at their watches, and trifle thoughtfully with their great gold seals; and so forth. Scrooge is bundling up his coat and heading for the exit when he is greeted by two business men.
BUSINESS MAN #1
Ah, Mister Scrooge…
Your servant, sir.
BUSINESS MAN #1
Are you off home to keep Christmas?
I am not in the habit of keeping Christmas,
BUSINESS MAN #2
Then why are you leaving so early?
Christmas has a habit of keeping men from
BUSINESS MAN #2
Come, it’s in the nature of things that ants
toil and grasshoppers sing and play, Mister
An ant is what it is and a grasshopper is what
it is and Christmas, sir, is a humbug. Good
The two men laugh at Scrooge as he exits the Exchange.
EXT. THE LONDON EXCHANGE
Moments later, on the massive stone steps just outside the Exchange, a shivering, POORLY-DRESSED MAN sees Scrooge walking toward him. Scrooge pays him no heed and walks past. The man follows and clutches at Scrooge’s sleeve as he descends the steps.
Mister Scrooge, sir.
Who are you?
Samuel Wilson, sir.
Oh, yes. You owe me a little matter of
twenty-odd pounds, I believe. Well, if you
want to pay it, come to my place of business.
I don’t conduct my affairs in the teeth of
I-I can’t pay you, sir.
I’m not surprised.
Not unless you give me more time.
Did I ask you for more time to lend you
Oh, no, sir.
Then why should you ask for more time to
pay it back?
I can’t take my wife to a debtors’ prison.
Then leave her behind. Why should she go
to a debtors’ prison anyway? She didn’t
borrow the twenty pounds. You did. What
has your wife got to do with it? For that
matter, what have I got to do with it? Good
Scrooge tries to walk off but the man clutches at his sleeve.
But, Mister Scrooge. It’s Christmas!
Scrooge shakes the man off.
Christmas has even less to do with it, my
dear sir, than your wife has or I have.
You’d still owe me twenty pounds that
you’re not in the position to repay if it
was the middle of a heat wave on August
Bank holiday. Good afternoon.
Scrooge stalks away as the helpless man seems to stifle an urge to strangle him.
Scrooge’s fiancee is heartbroken as he accepts her declaration of the end of their engagement with no feeling.
It’s A Terrible Life
Far from the saccharine sweetness exhibited in some of the earlier versions (and since), Sim’s never hesitated to show the darker, more tragic elements of the story. Indeed, they comprise much of the film, and are the source of the misery that Scrooge experiences as he relives the past, sees the present, and glimpses the future
The Crachit family mourns the loss of Tiny Tim.
The Added Scenes
Each of the pictures below is a screen capture from a movie scene not adapted from the book, with notations demonstrating the differences.
Tiny Tim, in a scene near the beginning of the film, is introduced much earlier than in the book, where we do not see him until the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to the Crachit house. In the film, we see Mrs. Crachit and Tiny Tim doing some shopping for the Christmas dinner, as they await Bob’s late release from work on Christmas Eve. Tim is wistfully eyeing some toys in a store window (actual period antiques loaned to the film production from a collector).
The film marks the first screen adaptation to show Scrooge and his fiancee together at the Fezziwig Christmas party. It is only a small step from that to the idea of making her Fezziwig’s daughter, which the 1970 musical does. Here, a young Ebeneezer, apprenticed to Fezziwig, proposes to his girlfriend, who accepts. In this version, her name is inexplicably changed to Alice, rather than Belle, as in the novel.
In the novel, the fact that Scrooge’s fragile little sister Fan died in childbirth is revealed during a conversation with the Ghost of Christmas Past. The film actually shows us the heart-wrenching scene, and the effect it has on Scrooge, turning him against the newborn child, his nephew.
The Spirit shows Scrooge the scene during their visit to the past, reminding him of his sister’s request for him to take care of her son, his nephew, a pledge that he has broken. His heart is torn with grief upon this realization.
Not pictured here yet, but worth mentioning, are some other scenes added to the story by the film-makers. During the trip to the past, we get to see the first meeting of Scrooge and Marley, as apprentices in Fezziwig’s business. (Young Marley was played by Patrick McNee.) The sellout by Mr. Fezziwig to Mr. Jorkins, who appoints Scrooge and Marley to run the business, causes Scrooge a momentary pang of guilt and regret as he sees the regretful Fezziwig leaving, but it doesn’t last long. We witness their eventual takeover of the company, as they in later years take advantage of Mr. Jorkin’s indiscretion to buy out controlling shares of the company’s stock.
Another significant scene that fleshes out the novel is the death of Marley. As the hourglass floats by signifying the passage of years, we are shown the death of Marley, only referred to in the novel as having taken place seven years earlier. “Seven years ago… this very night,” Scrooge notes. In the flashback, Scrooge is sitting in his office when Mrs. Dilber comes in with a message that Scrooge should hurry to see his dying partner…
Mrs. Dilber: [to Bob Cratchit] I’ve come to say that Mister Marley ain’t expected to make it through the night, and that if Mister Scrooge wishes to take his leave of him, he’d best nip along sharply, or there won’t be no Mister Marley to take leave of, as we know the use of the word. He’s breathing very queer – when he does breathe at all.
Bob Crachit relays the message to Scrooge…
Bob Cratchit: Mr. Scrooge?
Ebenezer: I’m busy.
Bob Cratchit: Well, it’s about Mr. Marley, sir! He’s dying!
Ebenezer: Well, what do you want me to do about it? If he’s dying, he’s dying.
Scrooge refuses to go during business hours, instead waiting til the office closes. When he arrives at Marley’s house (which we recognize as the one Scrooge now lives in during the present day scenes), he is greeted by the housekeeper Mrs. Dilber and the undertaker, waiting outside the bedroom door.
Ebenezer: Who is that? The doctor?
Mrs. Dilber: No, the undertaker.
Ebenezer: You don’t believe in letting the grass grow under your feet, do you?
The Undertaker: Ours is a very competitive business, sir.
The undertaker who is waiting on Marley’s last breath is later seen in the pawn shop with Mrs. Dilber and the laundress. (The actor who plays this part, Ernest Thesiger, was previously best known for his role as Pretorious in “The Bride of Frankenstein.”)
Scrooge goes in to visit the dying Marley, who tries to warn Scrooge that it’s not too late for him to avoid the mistakes he himself made.
Ebenezer: [as Marley lies on his death bed] Well, Jacob! They’ve seen to you properly, have they? Last rites and such?
Ebenezer: There’s nothing I can do, hmm?
[Marley nods again]
Ebenezer: Oh? What, particularly?
Jacob Marley: [rasping] While… there’s still time…
Ebenezer: Time? Time for what, Jacob?
Jacob Marley: [rasping] I was wrong… wrong.
Ebenezer: Well, we can’t be right all the time now, can we? Nobody’s perfect. You mustn’t berate yourself, Jacob. You’ve been no worse than the next man. Or better, if it comes to that.
Jacob Marley: [rasping] Save… yourself.
Ebenezer: Save myself? Save myself from what?
[Marley breathes his last]
[pauses as he realizes Marley is dead]
The undertaker and Mrs. Dilber enter unbidden.
Mrs. Dilber: [of Jacob Marley] Is he dead?
Mrs. Dilber: [to the undertaker] It’s just as you said!
The Undertaker: I always know.
As Scrooge leaves, and the undertaker begins to attend to Marley’s body, Mrs. Dilber looks on in sympathy. This is more than she gives Scrooge in the future scenes after his own death, indicating that as bad as Marley was, he was not as bad as Scrooge, who has indeed worked for more years on his own chains.
Scrooge later signs Marley’s death certificate with a measure of satisfaction at now being the sole owner of the company.
Another deviation is that his lost love Alice ends up never marrying, instead devoting her life to helping the sick and destitute, as we see her tending to a poor, but appreciative elderly lady, lying sick in a hospital bed. Why this change is made is a little harder to understand than the others, since the impact in the novel on Scrooge as he sees Belle happy with her family and children is more severe than in the movie.
More of the interaction between his housekeeper Mrs. Dilber is shown in the film, to great effect, than in the novel, where we only see her in Old Joe’s pawn shop. Here we see Scrooge, giddy with joy, as he wishes her a Merry Christmas. She is at first alarmed at his antics, thinking him mad! This changes to happiness as she sees the transformation is real, demonstrated by a gift of money and a generous raise.
Mrs. Dilber: A guinea? For me? What for?
Ebenezer: I’ll give you a guess!
Mrs. Dilber: [pause] To keep me mouth shut?
Scrooge is apprehensive as he visits nephew Fred’s house for the Christmas party he had been invited to the day before. Although described in the novel in a single paragraph, the film goes into more detail. Here we see an amazed maid, having taken Scrooge’s coat, give him encouragement through a smile and a nod as he pauses with trepidation on the threshold. Then the script adds a scene that I’m sure Dickens would have not only approved of, but probably wish he had added to the story, had he seen it. The images below chronicle the addition…
Scrooge’s entrance brings the dancing and merriment to a shocked silence as he enters. Fred is surprised, then delighted to welcome his uncle to the party. But Scrooge, knowing the pain he had caused Fred’s wife through his disapproval of their marriage, is afraid that she will not be happy to see him.
With great regret he expresses his sorrow over his past actions, and asks if she can forgive him for being a “pig-headed old fool, with no eyes to see with, and no ears to hear with.” Her eyes show the pain he has brought, which melts into joy as she willingly accepts his apology and blesses him for the happiness he has brought to Fred.
This scene gets to me every time! It is the final element of restoration needed for the story, and the most touching moment in the film. I well up just looking at the pictures! Scrooge is warmly embraced by his niece by marriage, and his joy is complete.
The final scene of the film, played over the narrator’s delivery of the concluding lines from the novel. Again, the events were not described in the novel, only intimated, but the film plays it out for a satisfactory ending. We see Scrooge, presumably on the next Christmas, contributing to the blind begger (whose dog no longer pulls his master away at Scrooge’s approach), and greeting a running Tiny Tim, now cured, who drags him home with him.
Composer: Richard Addinsell
One of the major contributing aspects to the impact of the film is the memorable score by Richard Addinsell. Conjuring up (and alternating between) both fear and joy, darkness and light, grief and happiness, the music stands out as the best of any film adaptation of the story.
Click on the track players below to listen to an MP3 file of that selection, or right-click on each and select “save as” to download to your harddrive.
Crachit and Scrooge
Crachit and Tiny Tim
Christmas Day Pt.1
Christmas Day Pt. 2
Who is that Ghost?
Look closely at the above production still… see anything odd? The Ghost of Christmas Present does not seem to be the actor seen in the film! He is probably a stand-in, about to be replaced in the scene by the actual actor that played the part. Or, or maybe the actor before the makeup and beard have been applied.
Blooper Alert: Near the end of the film, just after Scrooge’s transfiguration, he looks at himself in the mirror. A cameraman or filming assistant is clearly visible in the background of the reflection at this point, coming out from behind a curtain. Once it’s pointed out to you, you may wonder how you didn’t see it before! He’s still there, peeking out from behind the curtain, in the next shot that shows Scrooge going back to the mirror.
Cast (in credits order)
Alastair Sim …. Ebenezer Scrooge
Kathleen Harrison …. Mrs. Dilber
Mervyn Johns …. Bob Cratchit
Hermione Baddeley …. Mrs. Cratchit
Michael Hordern …. Jacob Marley/Marley’s Ghost
George Cole …. Young Ebenezer Scrooge
John Charlesworth …. Peter Cratchit
Francis De Wolff …. Spirit of Christmas Present
Rona Anderson …. Alice
Carol Marsh …. Fan Scrooge
Brian Worth …. Fred
Miles Malleson …. Old Joe
Ernest Thesiger …. The Undertaker
Glyn Dearman …. Tiny Tim
Michael Dolan …. Spirit of Christmas Past
Olga Edwardes …. Fred’s Wife
Roddy Hughes …. Mr. S. Fezziwig
Hattie Jacques …. Mrs. Fezziwig
Eleanor Summerfield …. Miss Flora
Louise Hampton …. Laundress
C. Konarski …. Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come
Eliot Makeham …. Mr. Snedrig
Peter Bull …. First Businessman, Narrator
Douglas Muir …. Second Businessman
Noel Howlett …. First Collector
Fred Johnson …. Second Collector
Henry Hewitt …. Mr. Rosehed
Hugh Dempster …. Mr. Groper
Maire O’Neill …. Alice’s Patient
Richard Pearson …. Mr. Topper
Patrick Macnee …. Young Jacob Marley
Clifford Mollison …. Samuel Wilkins
Jack Warner …. Mr. Jorkin
Vi Kaley …. Old Lady Sitting By Stove At The Charity Hospital (uncredited)
Visitor to this site Bryan Eley contributes his Christmas memories centering around the story, and adds his insightful comments on the film;
I stumbled across your site while looking up a quote from A Christmas Carol,
and agree with your assessments of the book and of Alastair Sim’s 1951
rendition. This book and the 1951 movie have always been something of a
Christmas tradition in my family, for my father would make his own Christmas
pudding and read the portion of A Christmas Carol where Mrs. Cratchit brings
out her plum pudding for the family. While I’ve enjoyed Scrooge with Albert
Finney, I much prefer Mr. Sim’s version. His smug sarcasm and dry wit (such
as with the undertaker not letting the grass grow under his feet) give him
an air of superiority and to me lends believability to the character.
There’s so much that recommends this movie. The costumes, the subtle use of
props (the bowl of soup in his home and his priming the feather dip pen in
his office to name a few) and in particular the hair stylings (IMHO a big
sticking point on period movies) are all absolutely authentic, such that I
do feel when watching this movie that I am peering through a window in time
to see London as it must have been in the 1840s. I do confess to a certain
amount of entertainment by the small part played by Mr. Jorkins (Jack
Warner), sort of a more amiable though equally amoral mirror of what Scrooge
would become. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment about Sim’s
character’s transformation after the visitations as the best rendition of
Thanks for a fine site!
I would like to thank you for your fantastic web site! I am as big a fan of Dickens as you are. Especially “A Christmas Carol”. The Alastair Sim portrayal is also my favorite version and because of you I already pre-ordered the special edition that is available in October, thank you. I have hired an artist to create wood displays of the characters of this version to set up in my yard this year for Christmas. Scrooge, Marley, and the 3 spirits! It is not Christmas without this story, I have almost every movie version in my collection and am eagerly awaiting the new Jim Carrey version. Thank you again and keep up the great work!
I came across your website yesterday and I just had to write to you and tell you how much I enjoyed it. I am also a life long devotee of A Christmas Carol and of Mr. Dickens. In my humble opinion, it is the second greatest book ever written and was the first book that I ever read alone as a child. In fact, I still have that copy. How wonderful it was to come across your site! You have some great photos that I had never seen before! I too have fond memories of watching Alastair Sim and Albert Finney with my parents as a kid. God Bless you … and Merry Christmas!!!
Just a quick thank you for the nice web site about Dickens “Christmas Carol”. I read it fairly thoroughly for no specific reason. I was just in the mood and was googling for some info on the 1970 Bricusse musical “Scrooge”, which has been my watching tradition on Christmas Eve since my children were little. I was thrilled when it came out on DVD as my VHS copy was getting quite worn. I have given all my kids copies, so now that they are grown and mostly married, they will have it in their homes. I agree with you that the Sims and Finney versions are the best of all the various versions. I did not know about the Patrick Steward audiobook version, but will add it to my Christmas list. Nicely done site. Thanks and God bless.
Grand Rapids, MI
Thank you for creating a wonderful website-it is a great tribute to perhaps the most joyful Christmas novel ever by one of the greatest authors ever-Charles Dickens!
I can’t wait to purchase the new DVD containing extras of the Alistair Sim version of A Christmas Carol-thank you for the heads up! To me Mr. Sim portrayed the greatest Scrooge ever. Happy Holidays!
While doing a search today on “A Christmas Carol,” I found your extraordinary website. I’m still delving through its riches, but wanted to take a moment to wish you well and thank you for taking the time to offer what is surely the definitive Scrooge site to the world.
I am myself Jewish, but I married a man brought up in the Christian faith and our family has a tradition of watching Alistair Sim’s “Scrooge” every Christmas Eve. We settle in with some eggnog, and by the time Scrooge asks his nephew’s wife for forgiveness, we are all invariably snuffling and the tears roll down.
While I’m sure that Christians most embrace the religious foundation of Dickens’ story, I can assure you that the lessons of goodwill toward our fellows are universal. I believe Dickens felt the same when he has the Ghost of Christmas Present say: “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!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!”
If we could only be rid of “factious purposes,” we would be keeping Christmas in our hearts 365 days of the year. And I agree with you: Sim is the quintessential Scrooge and the 1951 Minter version is the best of them all.
Thank you again,
First, congratulations on a wonderful ‘Carol’ site. Best yet.
Has anyone mentioned the flaw in the otherwise almost perfect VCI DVD 2007 release?
Scenario: Marley’s Ghost chapter. Scrooge is listening to the chains in the cellar. The music builds, the door slams open. Scrooge jumps up, throws his gruel and…nothing. In every other release of this film, Sims screams! In this restored edition, it’s gone! Listen to the audio with the narrative overlay (4). This audio track comes from an earlier release and the scream is there. The second disc with the older color version is also ‘scream intact’.
This is an important dramatic moment showing Scrooge’s very real fear. Without the scream, it’s somewhat softened. Do I have a defective disc? I don’t think so.
Any thoughts or feedback from other fans?
I have been infatuated with A Christmas Carol ever since I was a youngster. I can remember feigning illness so I could stay home from school when I knew that the movie was going to be televised. Back then, before the home video age, I was relegated to seeing the film only once or twice a year.
My collection, at last count, numbered over 100 different versions. Everything from the Flintstones, Jetsons, Chipmunks, and Brer Rabbit among animated versions to Sanford and Son, Bewitched, Ozzie and Harriet, and WKRP in Cincinatti and many more TV shows. I have a 1910 silent version made by Thomas Edison as well.
I also might mention that I also own around 40 audio versions too. To answer an oft asked question, Yes, I do watch and listen to them all year round! At Christmas time our home is full of Christmas Carol dolls, ornaments, books, and all types of Carol paraphernalia. Because I have just about every version that is commercially available, I have to search far and wide for local productions. Every 6 months or so I go on Google or Yahoo! And enter the search words A Christmas Carol under “images” search. This has resulted in my receiving tapes of many local productions as well. The Sesame Street Carol came out last year, and though it is ridiculous, I had to have it. Just this week I located and purchased a Jamaican Christmas Carol!
I believe that I have the most extensive private collection of Carol versions in the country. I have corresponded with Fred Guida who wrote a book on Carol adaptations and even received from him several versions that I did not have. He was not aware of any collections that were more comprehensive than mine.
Thank you so much for all of the time that you put forth in promoting the second greatest Christmas story ever written. And,as Tiny Tim observed,”God bless us, everyone”!
Other reviews and articles:
From author Fred Guida, writer of the book “A Christmas Carol and Its Adaptations: A Critical Examination of Dickens’ Story and Its Productions on Screen and Television. “Without question, my favorite is the 1951 British “Scrooge” (released in America as “A Christmas Carol”) starring Alastair Sim. I wholeheartedly agree with film historian Leonard Maltin’s statement that it is “too good to be shown only at Christmastime.” This great film is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and I have recently posted a special “birthday tribute” to it on my web site.
Along with Sim’s wonderful portrait of Scrooge, I think this version of the “Carol” does a great job of capturing both the light and dark side of Dickens’s original story. It is warm and charming in all the right places and, thanks to Sim, frequently very funny. But it also never shirks its responsibility in dealing with the serious social criticism that was such an important part of Dickens’s vision; at times it is a very dark film and that is exactly what Dickens had in mind. Earlier versions – the 1938 MGM production certainly comes to mind – tended to whitewash the story’s social criticism; in this context, I think the Sim version was very much a landmark effort in that it was arguably the first truly serious attempt to film the story as Dickens wrote it.
I should also add that I am very fond of the 1970 musical “Scrooge” starring Albert Finney. I think it is a truly excellent film and probably the most underrated and underappreciated of all the versions made to date.”
Patrick Stewart’s and Alastair Sim’s versions are reviewed and compared by MaryAnn Johanson
Christmas According to Dickens: A series of articles by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts, in one of which Sim’s movie is examined.
Why the Sim version is the gold standard, according to this review.
A 1951 review of the film when it was first released, published in the New York Times.
An article that explains why the writer watches “A Christmas Carol” every year, and why we should too.
Sim and two of his co-stars are “drawn together” for another version of the story later…
Sim made such an impact that he was asked to reprise the role vocally 20 years later when Chuck Jones made his Academy Award-winning 1971 animated short. Find out more about that film here.