Once upon a time a film with a Christmas setting was a special treat on television in the weeks before and during Christmas, but so many have been made in the last couple of decades for cinema and US television that the UK’s Channel 5 was able to promise to show at least one each day of December! And their schedule mostly omitted the ones everyone had heard of!
My own favourite for a long time has been The Bishop’s Wife, currently lost from most TV screens due to the prominence of the African-American gospel remake The Preacher’s Wife, which is inferior in every way except for Denzel Washington’s respectable stab at the Cary Grant angel role.
However, for the very first time this year I saw Holiday Affair, starring Robert Mitchum and a brunette Janet Leigh. Made during the same post-war period as The Bishop’s Wife and Miracle on 34th Street, it has a narrative, which, like the latter, deals with a war widow and her small child and the New York department stores, but, unlike it, has a tough and realistic tone.
One more brilliant film which is specifically set on the twelfth day of Christmas, the Feast of the Epiphany, is The Dead, John Huston’s version of the James Joyce short story. “A well-nigh perfect adaptation (with ) the greatest Irish cast ever assembled on screen,” enthused the recently OBE’d Philip French in The Observer when it was reissued to cinemas in 2006. Perhaps wintry rather than Christmassy, since it deals with loss, regret and mortality as much as with celebration and community.