After busy and exciting days of wrapping presents and opening them, it’s nice to have some quiet time to sit in a comfy chair, or a comfortable couch, or with piles of quilts on the floor, and watch a holiday-themed movie.
The Lion in Winter
This 1968 Academy Award film is for grown-ups. King Henry II and his estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn) meet for Christmas at Chinon Castle in France. Here they take up their yearly argument about which of their three sons should be king of their massive lands, including all of Britain and half of France.
There’s plenty of castle intrigue as the three sons Richard the Lionheart, Geoffrey, and John (Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, and Nigel Terry) scheme for the crown and their parents’ love. Princess Alais (Jane Merrow) is the sister of Philip, the King of France, played by Timothy Dalton. There is adult language and situations, along with a strange Dark Ages mixture of family treachery and true affection. As Queen Eleanor says, “What family doesn’t have its ups and downs?”
The Adventures of Robin Hood
A film for the entire family, this isn’t about Christmas, but does make a great holiday movie. The story begins with Henry II’s sons, Richard the Lionheart, off crusading in the Holy Lands, and leaving his untrustworthy younger brother, John, to easily take over the throne and make himself a Norman king. One of the Saxon barons, Sir Robin of Loxley, leads a band of rebels from Sherwood Forest, and falls in love with Maid Marian.
One of the first Technicolor films, this 1938 version stars Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland as Robin and Maid Marian. The villians are played by Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains. The film is directed by Michael Curtiz, who loved to make films about the underdog winning over tyranny.
A Christmas Carol
From the 1843 novel by English author Charles Dickens, one of the definitive versions is the 1951 film starring Alistar Sim, and directed by Brian Desmond Hurst. The ghostly and bleak black and white photography capture the economic devastation on a society ruled by money. While this film is fine for the junior high ages on up, it might be too scary for smaller children.
Alastair Sim is a perfect Scrooge, a humorless, gruff man, frightened by the ghost of his business partner, and by turns funnyor pathetic as he is visited by the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. The entire group of Scrooge’s friends, family, and business associates are cast in heaven, especially the actor playing Tiny Tim.
This film is another directed by Michael Curtiz, fan of the underdog. The action opens on a World War II battlefield, as two soldiers, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) are in the middle of an impromptu Christmas Eve performance to entertain the troops before the all participate in an attack. They are losing their beloved General Waverley, who makes sure the men eat before he eats, and sleep before he sleeps.
After the war, Wallace and Davis become wealthy and successful producers. During Christmas break, they meet the sisters of an old Army buddy, and accompnay them to Vermont, where they find General Waverley the owner of an unsuccessful inn. Wallace and Davis determine to invite all their old Army buddies to Christmas in Vermont, to surprise their former general, and to help jumpstart his business. After some misunderstandings, all ends well, with a snowy Christmas scene.
The film’s story includes many Vaudeville-type songs and dances, providing light entertainment for all ages, yet with a message of society coming together to help former soldiers make the adjustment to civilian life.
All of these films combine entertainment with messages, and give an added dimension to the winter holidays..