IT’S just turned 7pm. It’s dark outside, the curtains are drawn, the fairy lights are twinkling. We’ve finished dinner and are curled up on the couch with a glass of sherry, preparing to watch a Christmas film and, boy, are there a lot to choose from!
Do we rewatch the classics such as It’s A Wonderful Life or Alastair Sim’s excellent version of A Christmas Carol? Or of course we could go for something high octane such as Die Hard 1 or 2? Maybe we fancy a laugh and decide to rewatch South Park’s Christmas episodes, in particular their parody of Black Hawk Down, Red Sleigh Down, where Santa Claus is kidnapped by Iraqis. No, I think tonight we’ll flick on catch-up on Channel 5 and watch one of their many Yuletide offerings.
Now, for anyone who has watched these seasonal cheesefests, you’ll know pretty much what I do about these films. They’re terrible. Usually produced by Hallmark or the like, they’re more formulaic even than the average BBC production. From the very beginning, you’ll know what to expect. The writing is awful, the acting even worse. But you know something? I enjoy these films, and I’ll tell you why.
If you can try not to ask too much of these stories, they’re endearing. They’re very homely – everyone seems happy with life, people are accommodating and helpful. In films such as the Christmas in Evergreen series (evolved to accept diversity), a character can wander into one of those charming little towns and be immediately accepted by everyone. We watched one the other day, Christmas Town (2019), where a woman leaving Boston to become a teacher in Springfield is held up in a quaint little community called Grandon Falls. Not only is she offered a room and given a part-time job, but she is allowed to adopt the child of the guy she falls for and the local primary school teacher quits her job when she finds out this woman wants to stay to allow her to take over. All in a matter of a few short weeks. Crikey, if these places really did exist, homelessness would be fixed in a heartbeat!
Nobody smokes, they hardly ever drink and your chances of a hot date will be greatly increased if you ask the object of your affection whether she/he wants to meet for ‘hot chocolate/cocoa’.
The actors look as if they’ve wandered in from a toothpaste advert. They smile like Cheshire cats, even on occasions where it’s entirely inappropriate (your dog’s dead? [smiling], come over and have some cookies!) but after you’ve watched a few, you sort of get used to it.
There are things, though, that if you let them, will drive you crackers. The characters don’t only share but they overshare, no matter whether they’ve known each other for years or have just met. You’ll find scenes where, for example, a man wanders past an attractive woman at an airport or at a concert, and the conversation will go a little bit like this:
Man: Are you waiting for someone?
Woman: No. I’m wondering whether to go see my family or stay at home with my cat.
(Man looks at her enquiringly)
Woman: You see, my husband of 14 years left me for my secretary. My son isn’t talking to me, my boss is flirting with me and I found out recently, after I’d developed a rash (nods downwards) that I might have Stage 1 cancer. (Looks up) What’s going on with you?
You’ll see this in an awful lot of Christmas films on Channel 5.
Aside from different settings and characters, you could, to all intents and purposes, be watching the same movie. One or both of the main characters will have a high-end job, whether it’s an executive at a law firm or advertising company, or even own a business. You’ll get the odd musician pop-up, as in A Very Country Christmas (2017), a film which spawned three follow-ups, the latest released last year. The setting will always be perfect. No BLM riots, no serious crime or shootings. Everything is perfect and every house adorned with garlands and lights.
You’ll know within the first few minutes who the main character will end up with by the end. It doesn’t matter if they insist that they intensely dislike each other. It doesn’t matter how cantankerous one of them is, if they’re perfect strangers or old lovers. By the end of the film, they’ll be snogging while the grinning ninnies sigh around them.
Every film has parents who are proud of their kids and everyone is obsessed with dating. Even the men, who should know better, sit and talk to each other about it. Not cars, not sport, not fixing things – dating. Not only does this take up much of their conversation but they have no time-frame whatsoever on when it is appropriate to get involved with someone. It’s been six weeks since Caroline tragically passed away in unimaginable agony from infection . . . when are you gonna get back on the horse, man?! Bizarre.
In the better films, there’s usually a sequence where the main characters get to know each other better while baking cookies or cake. They smile (of course), they laugh, they might throw a little flour at each other. Not long after the baking montage, there’ll be a moment between the characters where one of them, usually the woman, trips while attending to the tree/walking down the street/fixing lights or decorations and falls conveniently into the arms of the man. There’s an awkward moment, they go to kiss and then they’re interrupted. In nine out of ten of these films, that will happen. Like I said, they’re predictable.
There’ll be something that turns the story towards the end, most likely a misunderstanding and a reason they can’t be together before it’s all explained and realising what fools they were, they rush to each other, embrace and the credits roll.
With all that in mind, why do I enjoy them? Well, they’re predominantly love stories and place a huge emphasis on the importance of family at Christmas. If you try not to get too irritated by how happy and joyful and accommodating the characters are, they’re actually very warm. Each helps the other, no matter whether they’re in trouble or not. They’re not only kind to each other but to strangers and characters going to these places for the first time will never feel uncomfortable or unwanted. They are very Christian in nature. It makes me a little envious, seeing community in fiction but little of it in reality.
The settings are often beautiful, a tapestry of white and green, snow-topped houses and mountains. There’s something very picture-postcard about them, like a painting you could feel yourself falling into, helping the kids put up their snowmen or skating on a frozen lake.
Yes, some of them are terrible and you might find yourself reaching for the off switch but with others, if you give them a chance, you might find yourself slipping into the fantasy, and remembering during the holiday season what really matters – love and family.
As for my recommendation, I’d say go for A Very Country Christmas and its follow-ups. If you hate them, no doubt I’ll hear about it.