Ask the Reader: favourite Christmas classics

With Christmas around the corner, several of Film & TV’s writers have chosen a film to recommend for the festive period!

The Holiday

The Holiday has to be up there as an all-time favourite Christmas film. As the days get shorter and you find yourself less and less tempted by a night out in the sub-zero temperatures, the cosy comfort of The Holiday is simply too tempting to resist. 

The duality of the film’s leading ladies, setting and love stories means there’s something for everyone. Whether you are more enticed by the LA dream mansion lifestyle or the more low-key countryside cottage getaway, The Holiday captures everything great about Christmas. From winter holiday romances to festive parties and snowy scenes, this film instantly puts viewers in a festive mood for Christmas, as well as initiating dreams of your own Jude Law waiting underneath the mistletoe for you.

Getting transported to the idyllic Christmas scene of Cameron Diaz pulling off the comfy-chic aesthetic, all whilst being a thriving businesswoman and stumbling across Jude Law as she finally gets the man she deserves, is simply Hollywood cinema at its best. On the flip side, you have Kate Winslet nailing the classic heartbroken, dumped and depressed character of Iris, capturing everyone’s hearts as she discovers her self-worth through her new friendship with Arthur – whose own warming storyline is enough to melt anyone’s frosty heart this Christmas. If the picture-perfect English scenery doesn’t entice you enough to start romanticising your own village, then fantasising about one day owning a house as stunning as Amanda Woods’ will get you imagination spinning. 

‘The Holiday’ truly captures what Christmas is about

Whilst it’s not quite the girl-boss film you may hope for when watching Diaz and Winslet’s opening scenes, The Holiday truly captures what Christmas is about: family, friends, and too much brandy. This feel-good film certainly inspires you to become the leading lady in your own life and get ready to start the New Year with the ambition of lifting your love-life standards to the charm of Graham and Miles. 

Annie Park – Love Actually

No other festive film for me will parallel that which opens with the infamous montage of scenes from Heathrow airport. Richard Curtis’ Love Actually remains reliably funny and warm almost twenty years on, not merely for the achievement of balancing so many storylines without one being superfluous or expendable. An ensemble cast brings together the same affectionate comedy of Curtis’ iconic past projects in the ultimate Christmas film that has weathered the test of time. It has since attracted criticism over its depictions of men in positions of power over their younger female subordinates, which might jar with modern eyes. Whilst it may have been written differently now, and without the abundance of fat jokes made in poor taste, it is still a hugely endearing and powerful feel-good movie.

The interconnectedness of the film’s storylines is its central accomplishment. Tony is on one level best friend and advisory to Colin, and director of an erotica film starring the socially awkward John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) on another. This storyline is especially and absurdly endearing as we witness two adults performing the most intimate and explicit scenes imaginable before even their first real-life kiss. Their clumsy navigation of getting to know one another, despite their profession requiring them to be almost always in the nude, comically capitalises on the quintessentially British excessive reserve of politeness.

Similarly, the budding relationship between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz) relies on comic miscommunications caused by a language barrier to demonstrate that their affection transcends what can be said and understood. The scenes in France leading up to Jamie’s proposal are magnificent to this effect, as a procession of curious onlookers develops, enticed by the rumours that Aurelia is to be ‘sold as slave’ or ‘killed’. Young Sam’s (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) pursuit of American student Joanna (Olivia Olson) is the other storyline that pinnacles in an urgent airport dash scene, but it is his relationship with his stepdad Daniel (Liam Neeson), strengthened by shared loss and the fluctuations of love, which we come to love most fondly by the end.

One of the film’s most moving performances is Emma Thompson’s as mum and overlooked wife. Realising her husband has given the gold necklace she spied to someone else, she tearily galvanizes herself in private before stoically returning to the bustle of Christmas Eve. In the background, the apt lyrics of Joni Mitchell can be heard: “And if you care, don’t let them know / Don’t give yourself away.”

Musical choices in the film are well and sensitively chosen

When considering fashion choices in the film, it is impossible to neglect the sheer quantity of turtleneck sweaters that feature as a staple of the film’s iconography. Jamie’s cheating wife wears one. Daniel’s wife’s funeral montage features them. Sarah wears one to say goodbye to Karl. Claudia Schiffer wears one. Even the young girl who answers the door to the PM is wearing one. However, polo necks are also uniquely befitting to each character. Alan Rickman styles his professionally under a brown blazer. Mia’s is suitably black and skintight, Liam Neeson’s is grey and appropriate to a grieving, concerned stepfather. Colin Firth’s chunky fit captures his inelegant but endearing Britishness. However, topping all others is Mark’s (Andrew Lincoln) styling of the staple garment when Juliet (Keira Knightley) learns of his feelings towards her. Beginning as an inconspicuous zip-up sweatshirt, in turmoil and heartbroken embarrassment, Mark decisively zips up the sweater and transforms it into full turtleneck. Later, in this modern version of Shakespeare, he performs his soliloquy to Juliet through cards on her doorstep, and it works, in its own way. From Karen’s sombre Joni Mitchell accompaniment to the orchestral, invigorating ‘PM’s Love Theme’, to the fitting outro ‘God Only Knows’ by The Beach Boys, musical choices in the film are well and sensitively chosen to cater to the variety of human emotions it addresses.

Love Actually’s title resonates by the film’s ending as it comes to reflect on the various epiphanies about love and relationships. The titular adverb denotes realisation, and the film would not succeed without its more poignant reflections on love. Actually, we realise, love can succeed in the strangest of instances; it sometimes fails but is always worth the fight.

Emily Doughty – Arthur Christmas

Capitalism, family drama and the struggle of seeing your world being replaced by technology. These three elements would seem more fit for an episode of Succession or Black Mirror than a light-hearted, family-friendly Christmas movie. However, Arthur Christmas manages to make all these elements part of this iconic Christmas movie of all time. 

The film’s story follows Arthur Christmas, the son of Santa, on his quest to give Gwen, a girl who has been forgotten by Santa, her Pink Twinkle Bike (with stabilisers). Joined by Grand Santa, a now retired Father Christmas who wants to prove he can once again fly, and Briony Shefley, an elf from Wrapping Division Grade three, they battle against the government, family and one another to deliver the present before morning. 

A modern Christmas classic

Arthur Christmas is truly a modern Christmas classic and creates the first realistic 21st-century Santa. It reinvents what we expect of the genre and merges the magic of Christmas with an Amazon-like military operation (with less workers’ rights exploitations) to explain Christmas night. Does Santa get around the world in one night with a sleigh pulled by reindeers? No! He gets around in the world’s first super jet. 

It does all of this without abandoning the sentimentality we expect from a Christmas movie. We want Arthur, the classic outsider, to win. It has the twinkly lights and scenes which will make you moments away from crying (if you know, you know). At its heart though, Arthur Chrismas is a story about coping with your family, especially on Christmas. It is a reminder that, at the end of the day, you all want what’s best for one another. There is no doubt that Arthur Christmas, in all its 3D animation glory, is a Christmas movie. Despite the fact it was only released in 2011, it is undeniably a Christmas classic.

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