As November sees the temperature plunge, it often feels as though some cosmic hand has declared ‘now it’s winter’. This is when the Christmas decorations appear all over the high-street and we break out the holiday favourites. The jolly season arrives and so does that odd genre of films centred around the Western world’s favourite holiday. Latest in the line of sweet, hopeful Christmas films is Last Christmas, marketed as a new addition to classic films such as Love Actually which uses the songs of George Michael to tell a holiday love story. Be warned, this film has only the loosest of connections to our dear, beloved George.
We find our main character Katarina, or Kate as she prefers, played by the wonderful Emilia Clarke, working at a Christmas themed shop and generally making a mess out of the life her Yugoslavian immigrant family have given her. It is loosely mentioned that she had an accident at some point previously and therefore has decided to stop taking life seriously at all. One day, a young man (Henry Golding) walks into her store with an unusual take on life, liberty, and happiness. It proceeds in orderly romantic-comedy fashion, until it takes a rather dark, heartbreaking turn.
It is always refreshing to see Emilia Clarke put her remarkable skills to work in a role other than the iconic Daenerys Targeryen, proving that she is more than a white wig and grim expression. Especially the messy, rough around the edges, Kate, who is mostly your average rom-com heroine but not quite. Henry Golding gives an honest, charming performance in the role of part-time cycle courier, part-time volunteer, and full-time slightly bonkers London explorer. However in the case of this rom-com it is the male counterpart, rather than the heroine, who strays into the one-dimensional –it is rather obvious that Tom Webster is way too good to be true. Emma Thompson is wonderful and hilarious as Kate’s mother, a distressed, anxious Eastern European mother who is prone to breaking out into Russian lullabies. She gives fully to that role and gives the film some much needed comic relief.
Last Christmas is definitely reminiscent of Love Actually, and that specific kind of hopeful, slightly absurd, British rom-com that usually has Richard Curtis attached. Although this time the whimsical Britishness comes from Emma Thompson’s superb script. Really it is her film, not director Paul Feig’s. Perhaps Thompson should have taken the reins on this one. London twinkles almost constantly as Kate follows Tom on many nighttime adventures. George Michael and Wham! form the backdrop of every emotional beat, despite the serious lack of reference to his music. Kate is obsessed with him, but beyond that it is rather a waste of the great artists work.
In the current cinematic landscape it is nice to be reminded that films which are warm and hopeful can be good. They can take you on an emotional journey with a mix of happiness and sadness, without compromising quality. Last Christmas is not dissimilar to existing holiday classics, but it finds a way to make that a strength rather than a lack of originality. It presents a complicated, modern family and a young person struggling with the cards she’s been dealt. We may not all get a magical, mystery man to give us the strength to conquer our messes, but we can all relate to being young and confused. Almost 20 years after Love Actually it’s about time for a new generation of British Christmas films and Last Christmas falls neatly into that category. It is well worth a watch for some Christmas spirit and a reminder that even when tragedy abounds, the darkness ends, and the days get longer, no-one is too broken to deserve a chance at redemption.
Last Christmas is out in cinemas November 15th
by Mia Garfield
Mia Garfield has just finished a degree in Film at Falmouth University. She has just finished her first short ‘Sonder’, keep an eye out for it at festivals in the UK. A big lover of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Mythology, her taste is varied. Her favourite films include Howl’s Moving Castle, Memoirs of A Geisha, How to Train Your Dragon, and Big Hero 6. You can find her @miajulianna2864