We are great buffs of A Christmas Carol in our household, and watch almost every version faithfully each Christmas, including the old 1938 Reginald Owen and the 1984 George C. Scott. Our overall favourite is the 1951 black and white tale starring Alastair Sim, because for me, Sim IS Ebeneezer Scrooge, his conversion the most believable. However, this modern version has its own unique merits and is a more than satisfying & watchable adaptation. (See my comments on the other films also, if interested)
Patrick Stewart, once you get past his not being Captain Jean Luc Picard (difficult for us as Star Trek fans), makes a pretty convincing Ebeneezer Scrooge and definitely the meanest one of the cinematic world. This miser is just an incredibly nasty old businessman; personally, I'd be quite afraid to carol outside HIS office window!
The tale begins uniquely, not with the classic rendering of 'Old Marley was dead to begin with', but with Marley's actual funeral as attended by his surviving business partner, the only movie version to detail this event. However, the rest of the film is quite conventionally done. Wonderful modern special effects of course, with Marley's ghost (a quiet but grim & tortured creature here) and so forth. The spirits are well captured, and the Spirit of Christmas Present is even (unlike other versions) shown to age, in keeping with the novel, as his twelve days of Christmas progress toward Twelfth Night.
This adaptation has my absolute favorite depiction of Scrooge's nephew, Fred. His hearty entry into his miserly uncle's counting house is absolutely priceless, with his benevolent, booming, 'A Merry Christmas, Uncle. God save you!' I adore Fred in this tale. I also love the little added touch at Fred's Christmas dinner party where the punch is heated with a hot poker. Magnificent! On the other hand, while Mr. Fezziwig is indeed intended to be plump and jolly, I found the positively fat & rather crude Fezziwigs (both Mr. & Mrs.) a tad overdone.
Scrooge's sister, Fan, is younger than him here, as in the novel. Most other versions have her older, and fabricate Scrooge's mother death in childbirth when he was born. However, Fan is barefoot in this movie when she comes to her brother's boarding school to retrieve him. How probable would that be in wintertime?
This movie has by a mile the best depiction of the Cratchit's poverty. Frankly, in some versions, the Cratchits appear so downright prosperous that one half expects a servant or two to appear and begin assisting Mrs. Cratchit with the goose & pudding. These Cratchits are literally poor as church mice, just as Dickens intended them to be. Bob appears bone weary, haggard, and long-suffering, Mrs. Cratchit homespun but cheerful as she goes about her endless chores, and Tiny Tim of course a very endearing little waif. I did, however, have strong objections to the young Cratchits banging on the dinner table with their cutlery. Yes, they were eager for goose, but would never have dreamed of being so rude. (In the novel, they stuff spoons in their mouths so they won't shriek for goose!)
If anything, this version is generally the most faithful to Dickens' novel. For example, it's the adaptation which best depicts Christmas Present's tale, where the miners, mariners at sea, and prison inmates are all celebrating Christmas as best they can. Especially dramatic is the scene in which a prisoner begins playing The First Noel on his recorder and the other inmates chime in one by one with their voices. You sense the spirit of Christmas in their midst. Also, this is the only version I've seen in which the repentant Scrooge attends church on Christmas morning before his appearance at the nephew's house for dinner. And at his office next morning, in his little speech to the befuddled Bob, Scrooge addresses the hot Christmas drink in question by its proper name, bishop, as per the novel.
Overall, this modern movie is excellent, but doesn't come across quite as a heartwarming tale. Maybe more realistic, but somehow it seems a wee bit darker than the others.