On Christmas Eve in 1843, Ebenezer Scrooge, a surly money-lender at a counting house, does not share the merriment of Christmas. He declines his nephew Fred's invitation to join him for Christmas dinner and dismisses two gentlemen collecting money for charity. His loyal employee Bob Cratchit offers Scrooge to have Christmas off since there will be no business for Scrooge during the day and Scrooge accepts, but demands that Cratchit arrive "all the earlier" the following day. In his house, Scrooge encounters the ghost of his deceased business partner Jacob Marley, who warns him to repent his wicked ways or he will be condemned in the afterlife like he was, informing him that three spirits will visit him during the next three nights.
At midnight, Scrooge is visited by the childlike Ghost of Christmas Past who takes him back in time to his childhood and early adult life. They visit his lonely school days, and then his time as an employee under Albert Fezziwig. Fezziwig throws a Christmas party, Scrooge attends and meets a young woman named Belle, whom he falls in love with. However, the Ghost shows Scrooge how Belle left him when he chose money over her. A tearful Scrooge extinguishes the Ghost as he returns to the present.
At two o'clock, Scrooge meets the merry Ghost of Christmas Present, which shows Scrooge the joys and wonder of Christmas Day. Scrooge and the Ghost visit Cratchit's house, learning his family is content with their small dinner, Scrooge taking pity on Cratchit's ill son Tiny Tim. The Ghost eventually ages, commenting that Tiny Tim will likely not survive until next Christmas. As the Ghost dies, he warns Scrooge about the evils of "Ignorance" and "Want", two demonic children who manifest themselves before Scrooge as two wretched children. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come arrives, appearing as a tall, silent cloaked figure, and takes Scrooge into the future. At the stock exchange, Scrooge's acquaintances discuss the death of an unnamed colleague, but do not mourn him. In a den, Scrooge recognizes his charwoman, his laundress, and the local undertaker trading several of his stolen possessions to a fence named Old Joe. Later, he sees a young couple who owed Scrooge money are relieved he is dead, as they have more time to pay off their debt. The Ghost transports Scrooge to Cratchit's house, discovering Tiny Tim has died.
The Ghost escorts Scrooge to a cemetery, where the Ghost points out his own grave, revealing Scrooge was the man who died. Realizing this, Scrooge vows to change his ways just as the Ghost disappears. The grave opens, and Scrooge sees his dead self lying in a coffin. He falls into the grave, then clings to his own dead body as he falls through the earth into Hell.
Awakening in his bedroom on Christmas Day, Scrooge finds the ghosts had visited him all in one night instead of three. Gleeful at having survived the spirits, Scrooge decides to surprise Bob's family with a turkey dinner, and ventures out with the charity workers and the citizens of London to spread happiness in the city. The following day, he gives Cratchit a raise and becomes like "a second father" to Tiny Tim, who escapes death. Scrooge and the Cratchits celebrate Christmas.
Rather than deliberately trying to resemble either the 1938 MGM version or the George C. Scott made-for-TV version in the cheerfulness and "Christmassy" feeling of their settings, the 1999 film takes as its inspiration to the classic 1951 film version with Alastair Sim in the grimness of some of its scenes and set design, although it still includes many cheerful moments. It includes three scenes almost always omitted from other adaptations which are the lighthouse, coal miners, and sailors on a ship at sea, by showing montages with different groups of people in different sections of the country singing Silent Night. The scene of the young couple who are relieved at Scrooge's death is also taken from the original story.Patrick Stewart - Ebenezer Scrooge
Richard E. Grant - Bob Cratchit
Joel Grey - Ghost of Christmas Past
Ian McNeice - Albert Fezziwig
Saskia Reeves - Mrs. Cratchit
Desmond Barrit - Ghost of Christmas Present
Bernard Lloyd - Jacob Marley's Ghost
Dominic West - Fred
Trevor Peacock - Old Joe
Liz Smith - Mrs. Dilber (Charwoman)
Elizabeth Spriggs - Mrs. Riggs (Laundress)
Kenny Doughty - Young Ebenezer Scrooge
Laura Fraser - Belle
Celia Imrie - Mrs. Bennett
John Franklyn-Robbins - Mister Crump (Undertaker)
Claire Slater - Martha Cratchit
Tim Potter - Ghost of Christmas Future
Rosie Wiggins - Fran (Scrooge's sister)
Crispin Letts - Topper Haines
Helen Coker - Betsy