The tale begins on Christmas Eve in the home of Ebenezer Scrooge (Alastair Sim), a greedy and stingy businessman who has no place in his life for kindness, compassion, charity, or benevolence. After being warned by the ghost of his now deceased business partner, Jacob Marley (Michael Hordern) to change his ways, Scrooge is visited by three additional ghosts – each in its turn – who accompanies him to various scenes with the hope of achieving his transformation.

The first of the spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past (Michael Dolan), takes Scrooge to the scenes of his boyhood and youth which stir the old miser's gentle and tender side by reminding him of a time when he was more innocent.

The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present (Francis De Wolff), takes Scrooge to several radically differing scenes including a joy-filled market of people buying the makings of Christmas dinner and the family feast of Scrooge's near-impoverished clerk Bob Cratchit (Mervyn Johns), in order to evince from the miser a sense of responsibility for his fellow man.

The third spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (C. Konarski), harrows Scrooge with dire visions of the future if he does not learn and act upon what he has witnessed. Scrooge's own neglected and untended grave is revealed, prompting the miser to swear that he will change his ways in hopes of changing these shadows of what may be.

The next morning, Scrooge awakens on Christmas day with joy and love in his heart, then spends the day with his nephew's family after anonymously sending a prize turkey to the Crachit home for Christmas dinner. Scrooge has become a different man overnight, and now treats his fellow men with kindness, generosity, and compassion, gaining a reputation as a man who embodies the spirit of Christmas.

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This 1951 version of Charles Dickens' classic novel is widely considered to be the definitive of the many films. Originally entitled "Scrooge" in its U.K. release, “A Christmas Carol” is remarkable for staying faithful to Charles Dickens's classic story as it remains fresh and vivid, even upon repeat viewings.

The entire cast is excellent, but it is the great performance of Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge that distinguishes this version from several other adaptations of this work. Sim creates a complex characterization, and, in the film's many flashback scenes, the audience is given a compelling view of the character as he evolves into the not-so-lovable curmudgeon visited by ghosts.

Indeed, such complexity is necessary for the story to have its full impact, as the viewer must feel both sympathy and disapproval for Scrooge, a difficult combination for an actor to convey. The crisp, black-and-white cinematography of C.M. Pennington-Richards is also a major asset. This is one of the most convincing of all recreations of Dickens' England from the brilliant director Brian Desmond Hurst.