Hate Christmas movies? Unable to stomach their revolting mixture of exhausted iconography and sentimental platitudes? Tempted to suspect that most Christmas movies and/or TV specials are so staggeringly bad that they must be fiendishly disguised satires, made by people who secretly consider their viewers to be dribbling simpletons? Unable to get excited about the prospect of watching yet another adaptation of Charles Dickens’ second worst novel? Wondering if this year the makers of EastEnders will achieve what is clearly their dearest desire and start a wave of Christmas Day suicides across the nation? Dreading the prospect of all the ordure adumbrated above yet simultaneously unable to contemplate surviving the “festive” season without the merciful presence of the gogglebox? Tired of rhetorical questions?
Okay then, here’s Jack’s Alternative Christmas Playlist….
The Lion in Winter (1968)
Christmas is a time for family arguments. You know how it is, everybody stuck together, desperately trying to get on and have fun… it’s a recipe for disaster. But nobody had a Christmas quite like the Plantagenets’ in this film.
Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole are the warring married couple, King Henry II and his older Queen Eleanor, who spend Christmas 1183 tearing great lumps out of each other with a non-stop mutual barrage of staggeringly vicious barbs, taunts, insults, paradoxes and lies. Add their three ruthlessly ambitious sons to the mix – the brutal Richard (Tony Hopkins), the cold-blooded Geoffrey (John Castle) and the cretinous John (Nigel Terry) – and Christmas (which comes complete with hilariously anachronistic trees and wrapped presents) becomes an excruciating familial apocalypse of plots, schemes, murder attempts, humiliating revelations and heart-shredding passions.
Ultimately, this film is only superficially about a struggle for the crown. The crown, the lands, the money, the power… these are the playing pieces in a game that is really about a family eating itself alive over lost love, sour love, delusional love, destructive love and the lack of love. When Kate Hepburn’s Eleanor says that “we” are the cause of history, she doesn’t mean royalty, she means we humans. At the season of love, as she watches her family attack itself, and watches herself join in, she wonders aloud why they can’t just love each other. “We have so much to love each other for,” she says, “we have such possibilities.”
It may be Albee-lite (and Anouilh-liter) but it’s still amazing, moving stuff, entirely uncontaminated by sentimentality… and guaranteed to put your own family squabbles into some kind of perspective.
Shooting the Past (1999)
Stephen Poliakoff’s masterpiece (from before he turned into an utter wanker) begins with Christmas lights. Christmas is something happening in the outside world. Within the peculiar space of the Falham Photo Library, time works differently, as does value and history and emotion. The modern world (in the form of an American corporation) buys this little island and starts to invade it, planning to sell it off and turn it into some piffling corporate ballsup… their interest in the gigantic library of old photos being precisely zero.…