Christmas is Around the Corner

Apologies to our friends across the border.  I know you haven’t had your Thanksgiving yet but in Canada, Thanksgiving has come and gone, along with Hallowe’en and Remembrance Day, and here in Ottawa we’ve had several centimetres of snow.  So it’s time to start thinking about my favourite Christmas movies — some old, some newer.

LionInWinterMy favourite movie of all time isn’t a Christmas story but it does take place at Christmas.  A medieval Christmas in a castle at Chinon in France.  I’m speaking of The Lion in Winter (1968), of course, with Katharine Hepburn (her 3rd Oscar), Peter O’Toole (nominated for an Oscar), Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, Nigel Terry, and Timothy Dalton.  It’s set in 1183, Henry’s eldest son has died, and he has yet to name an heir.  His wife, Queen Eleanor (played by Katharine Hepburn), has plotted to overthrow him too many times so he keeps her under guard in a tower but trots her out for the Christmas season.  Prince Philip of France wants the marriage between his sister, Alais, and Richard or the Vexin (strategic land in France) returned.  Henry’s troops are all over the Vexin and he wants Alais for himself.  Or Prince John.  Or Prince Richard.  He can’t decide.  The plot is full of schemes, intrigue, and family squabbling.  The music by John Barry (also won an Oscar) is glorious — dramatic at times, lyrical at others, and always beautiful.  I’ve watched it at least a dozen times and will probably watch it at least a dozen more. * * * * *

Miracle on 34th Street with Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, and a very young Natalie Wood is probably the most traditional — well-known and well-loved — movie; it is poignant and delightful.  Proving that Gwenn truly is Kris Kringle, convincing Maureen O’Hara that believing in things that can’t be seen isn’t a bad thing, and rewarding the faith of a small child, are reasons enough that this movie has remained a treasure for 67 years.  It will likely appear in the TV line-up in December but it’s always nice to have your own copy. * * * * *

DeccaAlbumCharles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been around for even longer in a variety of formats.  I can remember as a child sitting on the floor beside the old record player cabinet listening to recordings of the story with Ronald Colman as Scrooge.  There have been many film renditions of this play, even a spoof by Rich Little and a cartoon version starring Mr. Magoo, but my favourite will always be the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim with its haunting spirits, its bleak workhouse scenes and the giddy, rejuvenated Scrooge ordering the goose, dancing with his nephew’s wife, and carrying Tiny Tim down the snowy streets of London. * * * * *

There was a wonderful, made-for-TV movie starring Michael Learned (of the Waltons) and John Houseman called A Christmas Without Snow (1980).  Zoe Jensen from the midwest, recently divorced, moves to San Francisco to look for work and to make a new life for herself and her son, who is staying with her parents until she gets established. Zoe (Michael Learned) joins a church choir to meet new people and become involved in her community.  The church has just engaged a demanding choirmaster, Ephraim Adams (John Houseman), who decides they will perform Handel’s Messiah for Christmas.  As Christmas approaches, the church is vandalized, Adams has a heart attack, it looks like the performance is off, and Zoe learns her son is missing.  But of course, Christmas is the time of miracles.  I won’t tell you the ending in case you haven’t seen it.  This is standard viewing fare for me at Christmas.  Probably more than once. * * * * *

Two great early movies, Holiday Inn (1942) with Bing Crosby, Fred Astair, Marjorie Reynolds, and Virginia Dale and White Christmas (1954) with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen, are also essential holiday viewing.  Both are romantic comedy/musicals with great dancing and music by Irving Berlin.  Both have snow.  Both are lots of laughs.  I have a favourite between them but I’m not telling which it is. * * * * *

A newer movie has become very special. In 2002, Julie Andrews and James Garner made a wonderfully touching movie called One Special Night.  Dr. Catherine Howard (played by Andrews) has recently lost her husband to cancer and is not yet ready to move on with her life.  Robert Woodward (James Garner) has a wife in a hospice with alzheimer’s and cannot cope with any change.  His family is gathering for a special Thanksgiving reunion and they want to bring her out but it all goes wrong.  A snowstorm strikes and she offers him a ride home but they end up sheltering in a small cabin overnight and out of the squabbling, an interest is sparked.  Of course, things go wrong before they go right but it’s a very sweet and sentimental movie. * * * * *

Last year I was able to attend a live performance of Handel’s Messiah which was absolutely amazing.  I’m not expecting to be able to do so again this year but I have a DVD of the Choir of Westminster Abbey and The Academy of Ancient Music which I will set aside an evening to watch and while it won’t be the same, it may, in some ways, be better.  I’m looking forward to it immensely.  * * * * *

NutcrackerIf you like something a bit different, you might want to include the wonderful ballet The Nutcrackermusic by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.  Traditional fare for Christmas, loved by adults and children alike, this DVD is exciting, beautiful, and a bit scary at times, but full of spectacular music, costumes, and dance  There are several versions available. * * * * *



About mysm2000

Having taught elementary school for more than 25 years and been involved in many amazing technology and curriculum projects, I find I've developed a myriad of interests based on literature I've read and music I've heard. I've followed The Wright Three to Chicago, Ansel Adams to Colorado, The Kon Tiki Expedition to Easter Island, Simon & Garfunkel lyrics to New York City, Frank Lloyd Wright to Fallingwater, Pennsylvania, and have only just begun.
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