In defence of Christmas films made for TV

A Kiss Before Christmas
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Christmas films made for television (perhaps all films made for television) have a bad reputation – but do they actually deserve it?


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The classic Christmas film made for television truly is a standout genre.

Abandon all preconceptions and make no attempt to equate it with other films (comparisons can be cruel), the Christmas film for TV is boldly irreverent and something of a departure from the conventional rom-com, thriller or sci-fi film.

Television Christmas films are unique yet united in their offerings, like boxes of chocolates. Themes and flavours reoccur. Action happens quickly without being weighed down by logic; stories are populated by an abundance of singletons just waiting to start dating via flirtatious snowball fights; colour-coordinated houses shine bright in reds and greens, and there are poinsettias aplenty.

In what can only be described as film-viewing schadenfreude, the more ostensibly naff the plot, the greater our enjoyment will be. Take The Christmas List, made in 1997. Melody Parker (played by Mimi Rogers) works on the perfume counter at a big department store in Seattle. Her colleague persuades her to write a Christmas list which gets deposited into a small post box. One by one, Melody receives everything she asked for, and each instance of magical gifting is helpfully marked by the chime of a bell and the appearance of an illuminated Santa hat.

An additional asset of the Christmas film is its ability to showcase the craft of an otherwise underappreciated profession. Or rather, professions. The combinations of careers that cross paths within a single picture bravely defies statistics. I am yet to encounter another opportunity of watching a blacksmith and a romance novelist share a storyline (as in Christmas At Maple Creek, 2020), or an arborist and a farmer appearing side by side as often as they do in You, Me And The Christmas Trees (2021) or a secondhand bookshop owner joining forces with a builder to solve a Christmas mystery (AKA A Crafty Christmas Romance, 2020).

Unusual Christmas traditions (of which I had no prior knowledge) are similarly thrust into the limelight. Decorated boat races (Christmas Sail, 2021) and ice sculpting competitions (chiselled out in Ice Sculpture Christmas, 2015) take place in more filmic towns than you’d ever imagine. After seeing how much happiness these and other Christmassy customs conjure, we might be inspired to embrace them at home. Festive diorama crafting, anyone?

The film that paints with every colour of Christmas must be Mrs Miracle 2: Miracle In Manhattan (the eponymous character played to perfection by Doris Roberts). It celebrates the union of fashion designer, nominatively-festively named Holly, and department store manager, Jake. In powerful moments of theatrical self-consciousness, both characters remark on how frequently they run into one other. If they didn’t, their conversations would be short exchanges in coffee shops, which would not suffice in furthering the plot.

Christmas At Maple Creek

Christmas At Maple Creek (2020)

Emotions fly high in this narrative, much like Christmases in real life. Holly is looking after her nephew Gabe who enjoys visiting Jake’s store, with and without her knowledge. Fortunately, Mrs Miracle is always on hand to ease any tension. Jake’s father (also his boss and owner of the struggling department store) is a typically Scrooge-like figure in need of defrosting to be understood by his employees.

When we first meet Jake, he’s regretting his decision not to stock the must-have toy, Intellytron, favouring old-fashioned games instead, much to his father’s chagrin. That is, until every Intellytron is recalled when they start to combust. Together with Mrs Miracle, Jake successfully sells every toy available. Holly and Jake’s joy overflows at the shop’s Christmas party, and a happy ending is served following platters of first-rate canapés.

Herein lies another fun facet. You never knew what you were missing when it comes to the opulent possibilities of the work Christmas party. To secure an invite to a half-decent do (one that involves white ties and ballgowns, at the very least), it might be time to start job hunting. In Much Ado About Christmas (2021), a small marketing team attend a Christmas social that takes place in a building resembling a palace! What’s more, in A Kiss Before Christmas James Denton takes his wife Teri Hatcher to his glitzy work-do on Christmas Eve every year, as a special treat! To think, you were happy with a few drinks down the pub.

This cascades into another viewing pleasure: that of star gazing (or celebrity spotting). Patrick Duffy appears in Random Acts Of Christmas (2019) – a film about a small town that receives gifts from a mysterious secret Santa, which piques a local journalist’s interest. Meanwhile, Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson have brilliant roles in the remake of Christmas In Connecticut (1992) about a wholesome television cook who must learn to control her temper off-camera.

The film beset with the most illuminating stars might be The Christmas Train (2017). Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Dermot Mulroney rub shoulders and train compartments with Joan Cusack. Mulroney plays Tom, a writer and journalist who boards a train travelling 3000 miles in four days across America. Little does he know that his ex-girlfriend Eleanor (Williams-Paisley), a writer and script doctor, has also secured a ticket on board. Every passenger on the Christmas Train is a lost soul in need of direction. Thank goodness Eleanor’s boss is a professional, a warm-hearted film director who reminds us that everything is about the journey. Not quite The Orient Express (or North By Northwest), it is nevertheless train-based escapism at its finest.

Kimberly Williams-Paisley leads in two other excellent Christmas films worthy of yuletide discussion. Sister Swap: A Hometown Holiday (2021) and Sister Swap: Christmas In The City (2021) are equally enrapturing movies, starring Kimberly’s real-life sister Ashley Williams. Sister Swap: A Hometown Holiday focuses on the imminent closure of their family’s movie theatre. Ironically, empty seats would not be a problem if they had the opportunity of broadcasting this Hallmark film.

If any of the above sound like your cup of cocoa, then skate over to your sofa. Channel 5 have been most generous in their festive films, broadcast in pairs every weekday afternoon. As we get closer to Christmas, I suspect other channels will get the hint too. This is what we need… whether we realise it or not. After watching one fresh-faced Christmas film, hearts will be warmed like mulled wine. Smiles are guaranteed, on-screen and off.

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