I was eleven or twelve when I jettisoned the idea that I’d have to pay for my sins in the afterlife. But every time I watch Bryan Desmond Hurst‘s A Christmas Carol, and particularly Michael Hordern‘s big Act One scene as Jacob Marley’s ghost, the concept of suffering in death for one’s lack of kindness, charity and compassion in life, childish as it seems, is revived. Hordern’s performance half-scares and half-transforms, if only for the moment.

Hordern was an old-school British actor whose emoting and body language in this scene are quite broad and theatrical, and yet he really sells it. He makes you believe that some (most?) of us are in fact walking around with heavy clanking chains and weights, and that we’ve all willingly forged these chains “link by link and yard by yard.” That banshee howl (around the 3:45 mark) is astonishing, and I love that right-hand-across-the-brow gesture as he laments the “incessant torture” of having to endure as a fallen spirit.

Hordern was 40 or thereabouts when he played Marley. He passed in 1995 at the age of 84. Among people like myself he’s best known for his performances in El Cid (“Rodrigo knows what he must do”), The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (“That’s not quite fair”), How I Won The War (“beware the wily pathan”) and Juggernaut.

I don’t want to think about the length and weight of chain those Republican Senators who tried to block the 9/11 First Responders bill are carrying around right now.