Natalie Clarke and Kenny Boyle play Jen and Rob, two strangers – both recently split from their partners – whom fate has thrust together, trying to get home on Christmas Eve as the snow comes down.
Let’s be honest, you know this movie. I have no problem with a predictable and oft-told story. We like a sense of familiarity, especially in a Christmas movie. But when we know, or think we know, what’s going to happen with the characters, then we need one of two things to keep us interested. Explosions and set pieces, or rich, character-driven dialogue. As I’ve not yet used the name ‘John McClane’, it’s safe to say this film needs strong characters we care about.
There’s a bit of a problem with that. For a start, it feels like Clarke and Boyle are in two separate movies, with wildly jockeying acting styles. Clarke’s character, Jen, is a cheery, wide-eyed sort who, when we first meet her, is dressed as a Christmas elf simply because she likes the season. That’s fine, I actually know people who do this, but it feels as though Clarke attacks the role too hard. Her reactions are too big, the character too much to make her believable.
Sadly, for me. it just made it hard to empathise with her pain. I didn’t feel I was watching a quirky Christmas-loving woman who then started dealing with her pain by becoming even more maniacally pro-Christmas cheer. Instead what I saw struck me as more caricature than character. The contrast was brought into even sharper focus when playing off of Boyle’s character, Rob, who is dealing with his rejection by internalising his bitterness. Boyle’s performance feels more nuanced throughout, and it was very easy to believe he had just lost the love of his life.
At one point early on we are introduced to Noah, the son of Jen’s ex, who mistakes her for an elf. Played by Noah McKeown, this child lacks any kind of wonder or sparkle. I know he’s young, I know I shouldn’t be mean, but it feels as though he is thoroughly disinterested in being in the movie at all. This is a real shame, as there could have been some great mileage found in him helping Jen steal her two-timing boyfriend’s car keys, thinking he was assisting one of Santa’s elves. It’s a reminder of just how hard it is to direct children, especially when the Christmas genre is packed with classic performances from young actors to be compared to.
I’ve no idea what the shooting order was, but about half an hour in Clarke seems to ease into the role. Perhaps she was trying to introduce the idea of what Jen is quickly, maybe she just became more comfortable with the character. Whatever the reason, once the pair start the road trip things start to become much more watchable. It’s here that the movie turns itself around.
The pair eventually find themselves stranded at a hotel – because of course they do, you know this movie. There are a collection of other guests holed up for Christmas and, despite sorrows and sadness, they all end up coming together – because of course they do, you know this movie! As I said, it is the characters that drive it; so how do the hotel staff and customers shape up?
Fans of Doctor Who will be very happy to see Sylvester McCoy and Frazer Hines appearing together as two old drinking pals. Watching them you could be forgiven for thinking it’s late night at a small convention and the two are happily getting slowly sozzled in a corner, trading war stories and gently ribbing each other. But they exude more than enough charm to make them watchable, and the affection they share is like a warming dram itself.
I was thrilled to see Clare Grogan making an appearance. Frankly, there needs to be more Grogan on the world’s screens. Though not given a lot to do here, her perfectly understandable stripping down of Jen for insisting they all try to get in the Christmas mood has pitch perfect delivery, grounding both Jen and the audience, reminding us that Christmas might be many things, but it isn’t the panacea that Hallmark movies often make it out to be.
Throughout it all though, the star turn is without a doubt Sanjeev Kohli. He delivers each line and look with a wry dryness that makes him impossible to not watch. The one time that breaks is when he strides out, exasperated, plunger in marigold-swaddled hand, asking the universe who would put an orange down the toilet. His delivery is topped off by McCoy sneaking around to pour the drinks himself before declaring with impish glee “it was me that put in the orange”. Perhaps the line of the movie.
With the other guests doing a fine job with what they’ve got, the one I hope to see more of in future is Caitlin Blackwood. She brings a vulnerability and honesty to her character that manages to lift every scene she is in. I don’t know if she was cast because she’s also a Doctor Who alumni, but whatever the reason, she’s perfect in the role.
Think of this movie as a Christmas cracker. The smaller half is pretty empty and disappointing. The other will keep you distracted for a while, hopefully make you laugh, and will go a long way to making you feel more Christmassy.
Lost At Christmas will be released in UK cinemas from 4th December and on Digital from 7th December.