Each year the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar takes a look at the perhaps lesser-known Christmas films. The ones that we don’t make a point of re-watching each year as festive tradition. With that in mind this year the Calendar, with slight inspiration from last year’s selection of The Curse Of The Cat People, delves into the world of forgotten classics, the ones that may have been slightly left behind in exchange for the likes of It’s A Wonderful Life and The Bishop’s Wife.
As we arrive at Christmas Eve, and therefore the final day of this year’s calendar, today’s forgotten classic is one that has perhaps become a new festive favourite of mine. And also one that I knew nothing about before researching and watching for the calendar. Behind the final ‘door’ – put a quote/ saying you feel applies for this – of this forgotten Christmas classics calendar is 1952’s The Holly And The Ivy.
Based on the stage-play of the same name (with writer Wynward Browne co-writing the screenplay with Anatole de Grunwald), The Holly And The Ivy largely revolves around the traditional idea of a rather dysfunctional family returning home for Christmas. The leading figure of the Gregory’s is devout vicar Martin (Ralph Richardson), deeply faithful he’s fixed on the true meaning of Christmas and the sermon he will deliver on Christmas Day. It’s the kind of thing daughter Jenny (Celia Johnson) hears all day every day as she looks after her father and his house, despite wanting to run away and be married to local engineer and family friend David (John Gregson). The restraint that she feels is felt by everyone else as they arrive one by one, in quick succession. With this in mind tensions rise and re-rise as it’s revealed just who doesn’t hold religious beliefs anymore, and the personal problems that certain faces are going through.
From initial civil disagreements to complete disapproval and arguments each of the children is made to feel put down and almost shamed of by their father, over the course of a long Christmas Eve. What initially feels like a standard Christmas of distant family reacquaintances, a feeling which is lightly kept throughout in the presence of elderly Aunts Bridget (Maureen Delaney) and Lydia (Margaret Halston), delves into a set of personal dramas, particularly when Jenny’s sister Margaret (Margaret Leighton) arrives with her own truths and secrets, and the personal burden of alcoholism which she’s trying to hide from the family, particularly her father.
It’s difficult for each figure to focus on the goodwill and family presence of the season with their own respective worries and focuses. Despite some attempts many, mainly the children, get caught up in their own personal feelings and fears at how their father will behave and react, all while he prepares for his Church service the next day. The tree may be lavishly decorated and the fire warm, yet the white coldness of the thick snow outside, lining the windowpanes, lightly draughts in to the situation and adds a coldness to each situation, despite the lack of conversation and confrontation which is (or rather isn’t) occurring.
Yet, there’s still a spark of family festivities present within the piece. A group who have come together, some travelling far distances – with son Michael (Denholm Elliott) somehow obtaining a couple of days of compassionate leave from the army – to celebrate Christmas together. There are certainly rifts on display, a fair few deeper and more long-held than the standard dysfunctional family. But, the film doesn’t forget the Christmas season and that Christmas Day itself is just around the corner, a feeling which is present throughout much of the short run-time – a feeling which both heightens the drama and the family feel and heart of the film.
The Holly And The Ivy can be watched in the following places:
iTunes/ Apple TV
Or, you might be able to find a physical copy somewhere. To see if the film is available to buy, rent or stream anywhere else, particularly in your country, it’s always worth checking JustWatch.