Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the perfect Christmas story. It takes place over Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, features the unlikely redemption and emotional rebirth of its protagonist, and it’s got fucking ghosts in it! What makes this story so enduring though is that the framework can be utilised in any number of modern retellings, all of which are a commentary on the culture that produces them. So how do you improve on perfection? Cast Bill Murray.
Scrooged is one of those films I taped one Christmas as a young boy and watched religiously while I grew up. It didn’t even need to be Christmas either – I remember watching it three times in a day during the school summer holidays one year. These days I have learned a little restraint and can keep myself down to one or two December viewings of the modern classic.
Murray stars as Ebenezer Scrooge-substitute Frank Cross – a TV executive whose undeniable success has cost him his warmth, his soul, and the one true love of his life. His network are planning a live-to-air adaptation of A Christmas Carol (the story-within-a-story, very meta) and Frank’s plan for the marketing is to literally scare the viewers into not missing it. When a junior executive, who goes by the fantastic name of Eliot Loudermilk (played by the even more fantastically named Bobcat Goldthwait), disagrees with Frank he is fired on the spot and spends the day planning his revenge. Meanwhile Frank is fighting off an ambitious producer who is after his job, and trying to ignore the protestations of his assistant and brother that he should show a little Christmas spirit and try caring about someone other than himself.
You know the drill from here – Frank is visited by the ghost of his former mentor who warns that he will be visited by three ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Frank through his difficult childhood (where he receives veal steaks for Christmas); to the moment he chose his job over the utterly lovely Claire (Karen Allen).
The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Frank’s brother (played by Murray’s real-life brother John) sticking up for his brother despite all the evidence to the contrary, while Frank’s assistant is living in poverty with a mute son (a classic ‘Chekhov’s Gun if ever there was one) and Claire is working in a homeless shelter.
The Ghost of Christmas Future is a suitably dark bastard who scared the living crap out of me as a youngster – and he clearly does the same to Frank who decides to change his life in true Ebenezer Scrooge-style. He just needs to fight off a psychotic Loudermilk, reconcile with a lost love, and deliver a passionate and slightly unhinged soliloquy on live television.
In the paraphrased words of a once-mute little boy; God bless Bill Murray. Everyone!
Watch Scrooged on Christmas day (2:25pm Channel 4) or stream instantly on Netflix UK.