It’s been a while since we’ve had a genuinely good Christmas film. One that will be populating terrestrial TV at this time of year for years to come. I’m talking about films like Elf, or Love Actually.
Each generation has their own Christmas films, there’s the two I’ve just mentioned, or there’s Home Alone if you’re a bit older, Gremlins or Die Hard for those looking for a harder-edged Christmas flick, going back even further there’s Miracle on 34th Street, or It’s a Wonderful Life; Christmas films tend to live on longer than their unseasonal counterparts.
So, along comes this film: Last Christmas. Hoping to step into those shoes, and fill a void that has been empty for a considerable time, there’s a case to be argued that we’ve yet to have a genuine ‘Christmas classic’ in this decade, but after this, we may just have had a very late entry to consider.
One year after suffering an almost fatal heart complication, Kate’s (Emilia Clarke) life is a mess, she isn’t taking care of herself, and is alienating everyone around her. The arrival of the mysterious Tom threatens to turn her life around, no matter how much she is unwilling to do so…
When I first read about this film, I was worried somewhat. It sounds like the kind of concept that could easily fall apart; a Christmas film based off the music of George Michael sounds a bit ridiculous on the surface, at best it sounds like a fluffy distraction that fawns over its subject matter, at worst it might have been a dire attempt to pluck at our heartstrings.
Luckily, the film had a secret weapon: Emma Thomson. The tenured actress is not only a part of the cast for this film, but one half of the screenwriters too. She has form as a writer, having received an Academy Award nomination for her Sense and Sensibility script. She is also known to edit scripts uncredited in numerous productions.
This was a massive point in the films favour, as the film benefits from an enormous heart thanks to Thomson’s script, her dialogue sparkles with wit and warmth. It’s the films bedrock that helps it endear itself to the audience.
It’s also helped by a dream-like directorial approach, using some of London’s more romantic settings to help enhance its central love story. It’s almost fantastical approach to its settings conjures up all the warmth that a Christmas film needs, settling us into a cosy place, with its winter, romantic images.
I have been critical in the past of Emilia Clarke as an actress, with good reason, I feel. She has, in the past, blankly stared he way through roles with all the warmth and expression of a robot with low batteries, but here, whether the script has engaged her more, or the director has worked with her better, she manages to find the warmth that she has been sorely missing, carrying the stories emotional heart extremely well, as well as shining in her characters more humorous moments.
Alongside her is Henry Golding, an actor with whom I am unfamiliar, according to his online profile, he was a star of last years Crazy Rich Asians, a film I sadly missed upon its release. I was very impressed with Golding though, and his portrayal of Tom strikes the right balance of distant, yet heartfelt. Keeping his character somewhat mysterious, yet approachable, in some ways, he’s the backbone of the story, the maypole around which all the events dance merrily.
I don’t think the film is a complete home run, however. There are some clumsy links to modern attitudes and politics that I think were ultimately unnecessary amongst the narrative, it felt like an attempt to insert real-world events where they weren’t needed. The background of Kate’s family fleeing Yugoslavia was enough, anything else was just passing for the sake.
I also feel as if the connection to its subject of George Michael was fleeting at best, there’s a brief moment of Kate mentioning how much she admires him, then the link is merely reduced to using his songs in the background, besides the big link to the title song, it all feels very vestigial.
These things aside though, this film will leave you with the warm, cosy feeling that all Christmas films should leave you with, as well as a surprisingly daring twist towards the end that turns the film on its head and leaves you desperately clawing through the film for clues.
It may well be the closest we’ve come to a genuine ‘Christmas classic’ in quite some time.