Dan Stevens: “Finding hope in bleak times is a universal theme”

Dan Stevens, who stars as Charles Dickens in The Man Who Invented Christmas, describes the "great humanism" of A Christmas Carol

“Hopefully this film will restore the faith in Christmas I maybe stripped in 2012. You know, dying in a car crash in Downton Abbey.”

After his on-screen death cast a shadow over celebrations five years ago, Dan Stevens is back to reclaim his position as a man who honours Christmas and keeps it in his heart. The 35-year-old plays Charles Dickens in The Man Who Invented Christmas, an irreverent take on the writer’s struggle to conjure up his festive masterpiece, A Christmas Carol.

Fresh from the success of Beauty And The Beast, Stevens brings real verve and vivacity to the role. During a whistle-stop, 41-hour trip to London, he made time to talk to The Big Issue about the film.

“It wasn’t on my bucket list to play Dickens, but there was something about the conceit of the film, watching his creative process, which by all accounts is pretty accurate,” he says. “His daughter really did find him in his study making weird faces, screaming in the mirror and yelling at himself until he could come up with names for his characters.

Dickens put himself under a tremendous pressure to deliver a book that was just mental in concept

“You see this guy putting himself under a tremendous amount of pressure to deliver a book that was such an unusual concept and an absolutely unheard-of premise for any work of art. It’s a sort of time-travelling, moralistic adventure, a journey of self-discovery set at Christmas with supernatural elements. I mean, it just was mental.

“There is a great humanism about it that transcends even Christmas. There is something about that midwinter festival that Christians saw as very fitting to set their festival in. But even before that, Yule was a celebration that at the darkest time of the year the light will return.

“And that is central to A Christmas Carol and a lot of Dickens – finding hope and goodness and laughter in the heart of the bleakest of times and bleakest of characters is an incredibly universal theme. And that is why this tale travels all over the world.”

Despite studying English Literature at Cambridge, Stevens says he “never locked horns with Dickens at anything more than 1,500 words,” claiming to have been too intimidated.

Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer in The Man Who Invented Christmas
Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer in The Man Who Invented Christmas

“It was nice to have the excuse to revisit his work with no essay at the end of it. I was looking for tone, ideas, and at the way he could disregard class background and look at the humanity and characteristics of people regardless of their status.”

And the definitive screen version of the Dickens classic?

“Oh, it has to be The Muppet Christmas Carol,” he says, before laughing. “Any Dickens nut would probably say that. In spirit, if nothing else, it really is phenomenally faithful.”

The Man Who Invented Christmas is in cinemas now