Christmas comes early to Church Row

BBC film new version of A Christmas Carol with Tom Hardy

Thursday, 30th May 2019 — By Tom Foot

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ITS centuries-old churchyard is the final resting place of the painter John Constable, comic Peter Cook, suffragettes including Eva Gore Booth and dozens of war dead.

But two new tombstones could be seen in Hampstead Parish Church this week – those of Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley.

Prop graves for the two fictional characters from Charles Dickens’ timeless classic A Christmas Carol were installed in the cemetery during a three-day film shoot in Church Row. Twenty-nine weeks until Christmas and in a month more synonymous with sunshine, the road was nonetheless transformed into a Victorian winter wonderland with a blast of fake snow.

Tom Hardy and Ridley Scott are part of the production team for the three-part BBC special which boasts a star-studded ensemble including Guy Pearce and Charlotte Riley.

A member of the church parish, who did not want to be named, said: “It was surreal and a lot of fun. They brought in horses and carriages and all sorts of things. They put up gas street lamps outside. And they put up gravestones for Scrooge and Marley. We had tourists a bit perplexed, I must say. You could hear people saying, ‘ooh, I didn’t know they were buried there’. But obviously they found an area where there was nothing else in the way. They couldn’t dig up the real graves.”

She added: “Of course, they will have paid for the location. We give a lot of money to charity so it will help with that.”

It was a real-life grave that inspired Dickens to create his protagonist Scrooge, in what would become one of literature’s most enduring characters. The 19th-century novelist, who lived in several homes in what is now Camden, had walked past a grave in an Edinburgh cemetery that he said described its occupant, Ebenezer Scroggie, as a “mean man”.

It gave him the idea for the cold-hearted miser who despises Christmas but is later transformed by ghosts, including Jacob Marley, into a better person and changes his ways. Dickens wrote in his notebook: “I thought it was a grievous message for Eternity… this was the emblem of a life surely wasted.”

The BBC described its production as a “unique and original take” on the iconic ghost story by the Peaky Blinders writer Steven Knight. It is executive-produced by Hardy, Scott, Dean Baker, David W. Zucker, Kate Crowe and Mona Qureshi for the BBC.

Mr Knight said: “This production of A Christmas Carol will respectfully present what we believe to be a timely interpretation of a timeless story.”

A book, Buried in Hampstead, about more than 7,000 people buried in the parish of Hampstead, is available from the Camden History Society.

The Church Row Residents’ Association declined to comment.

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