ADAPTING one of the most famous festive tales of all time is one thing – it’s been done in everything from The Muppet Christmas Carol to Disney’s extravagant 3D animation starring Jim Carrey. But exploring how exactly it came to be is another prospect entirely.

This amiable showcasing of how Charles Dickens was inspired to write A Christmas Carol blurs the lines between historical truth and fanciful fiction to fittingly uplifting effect.

It’s 1842 and the 30-year-old Dickens (Dan Stevens) is in New York City after embarking on an American tour and generally basking in the success of his hit novel Oliver Twist. But, cut to more than a year and three flops later, and the acclaimed English author finds himself back in foggy Victorian London with a heavy dose of writer’s block and looming debts.

To help pay them he comes up with the idea of writing a quickie book, with the support of his kindly friend John Forster (Justin Edwards), to be released in time for Christmas, a holiday that hadn’t yet become cherished and celebrated in the way it is now (hence the title). His publishers don’t see the appeal or how he can possibly get it done in such a short time, which forces him to take publication of the book into his own hands.

Stevens plays the legendary author with infectious spark, enjoyable theatricality and a kind of endearing volatility. But at the same time he grounds him enough as a sympathetic character desperate to please his audience. Such is his mad scientist-writer persona, you completely accept the idea that he would imagine his characters appearing and developing literally before his eyes.

The film works best when it focuses on the clever conceit of visualising the creative writing process by having Dickens converse with his cantankerous protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge (a perfectly cast Christopher Plummer), who taunts the author about his inability to get on with the writing and his need to please his audience. As the ideas begin to bloom, we see how he must confront his very own Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come.

Bharat Nalluri’s (Spooks: The Great Good) film gives us a neat way into a familiar story, an imaginative slant that papers over the cracks of some of the script’s ordinary or simplistic elements with cosy, god bless everyone cheer. A few weeks before Christmas, that’ll do just fine.