The tradition of buying a bumper Christmas Radio Times, and going through and picking out the most promising offerings, may be one that is slowly dying out, but it’s not dead yet. Many of us will still be flicking page by page, using whatever systems we have developed over the years. Whether you’re a Bic pen ringer or a day-glo highlighter, one of Sky’s offerings for your consideration is their sumptuous imagining of Matt Haig’s book A Boy Called Christmas.
Directed by Gil Kenan, who also wrote the screenplay adaptation along with Ol Parker, this is classic family Christmas fare. With gorgeous snowy landscapes, an impressive cast, and plenty of festive fantasy beings, everything is in place for 105 minutes of joy. It’s the story of the ‘real’ origins of Father Christmas, who we meet as a poor boy in Finland. We get to follow him on his quest to discover Elfhelm, home of the elves, and the adventures and trials he endures to – quite literally – discover the meaning of Christmas.
READ MORE: The Great Silence (1968) – Blu-ray Review
An almost ethereal Henry Lawfull plays Nikolas, the hero of the film, and never has an actor been better named for the role they are to play. To his credit he does an excellent job of making us care about a character that is little more than a Dudley Do-Right with a reindeer. Nikolas is so lacking of any vice he ends up being a less believable figure than any of the elves, pixies, or talking mice! Or rather talking mouse. The mouse in question is voiced by Stephen Merchant, a man who oozes likability with every syllable and is perfectly cast in the role, managing to bring charm to a character who could easily prove annoying to the adults in the audience.
Other names of note are Jim Broadbent, who is always good value for money and doesn’t disappoint here, and Maggie Smith, who still manages to have an impish glint in her eyes. An almost unrecognisable Kristen Wiig is a treat, appearing as the wicked step-motheresque Aunt Carlotta, and seeming to be having a rollicking good time as she does so. We’re also spoiled by the inclusion of Sally Hawkins and Toby Jones as elves. Bringing a real pathos to characters who, in lessor hands, would be eye-rollingly pantomime, the pair manage to anchor the denizens of Elfhelm, bringing a relatability to the usual chocolate box Christmas elf troupe we’re so used to seeing. They’re joined by Zoe Colletti as the Truth Pixie, a flying sociopath and pyromaniac who is made even odder by an unusual computer rendering to enhance her pixieishness but really creates an uncanny valley weirdness to her already bizarre character.
This, however, is the only time the digital effects really let down the production. Though they aren’t exactly flawless, they are excellent, and any slight imperfections manage to add to the charm of the whole film, creating an almost animated feature feel. The whole production looks wonderful, with sweeping, snowy vistas and snuggly knitwear as far as the eye can see.
READ MORE: Exposure (Louis Greenberg) – Book Review
This being a Christmas film, there is, of course, a moral to the story. In fact, there’s a whole stocking’s worth. To name a few, we have the importance of friendship, telling the truth, the true meaning of Christmas, forgiveness, and even commentary on immigration. There will, without a doubt, be people bemoaning the ‘wokeness’ of the whole thing, especially with the use of a mixed race family to frame the whole story Princess Bride style, but please do ignore them. Christmas is the time we tell ourselves we can be the best version of who we are, and showing children a better world where morality matters and lessons can be learned is no bad thing.
Though A Boy Called Christmas is not without its flaws, it is definitely worthy of a watch. Parents won’t be bored by it, and may even find themselves occasionally laughing out loud. And if younger family members do get hooked and start playing it on repeat, it’s certainly better than many of the other Christmas Specials they could become obsessed by.
A Boy Called Christmas is out in cinemas and on Sky Cinema from 26th November.