A nice blend of grit and festive cheer make this British Christmas flick work quite well. It features a splendid British cast, a sweet dose of magical Santa believing for the kids and enough scepticism to interest the adults in the cinema crowd.
One night, nine year old Tom (Kit Connor) finds who he thinks is Father Christmas (Jim Broadbent) in his shed. In his apparent crashing to Earth, Santa needs his reindeer back and in trying to get them he winds up in prison. Tom has to hope his recently released dad Steve (Rafe Spall) will help at whatever cost in the quest to save Christmas.
It’s a fun little thought to take a family festive film and twist it slightly to make it more earthy. This gritty subtext of the movie keeps it from being a sickly Xmas pud it may well have been otherwise. I know it’s majorly aimed at children but the whole letters and pipes to Lapland is a tad to much, so thankfully grimy UK prisons, subtle adult jokes and police incompetence makes it bearable. Though I may not have liked the softer magical side of it all, it would be hard to think of a child that wouldn’t like seeing the idea to save Christmas as appealing and enjoyable.
As mentioned, there are a few offerings to appease the grown ups going to the pictures to view this release. Inspired moments like Tom saying a man called Santa wants to show him his plan are clever dirty lines that will make adults laugh, the entire prison idea is a different stroke for a film of this genre and it works quite well to be honest. In the slammer we get to see shady blokes tormenting the screen as much as they clearly torment the jolly old guy in red. It also gives us a chance to see the brilliant Stephen Graham as a helpful and handy barber, in turn gifting us a gangster Claus walking with swagger down the halls.
Some moments in this movie are very pantomime, the police are sent up as much as possible, which is fine by me but at times it loses the gritty style in their madcap lack of intelligence. The Trunchbull-esque character played by Joanna Scanlan is so grotesquely villainous it’s a surprise she’s not sprouting warts, cooking up poisoned apples and cackling. Though riffing on the pantomime feel, Tom and Steve dress up as stage cast to evade the cops and a funny, though very British Keith Chegwin reference crops up in the process.
The film has its pitfall in feeling quite long too. The first half seems to go by quickly and then it seems to slow down painfully all of a sudden. Maybe in the endgame not arriving as quickly as it should considering the outcome we all know is on the horizon or perhaps in its meh so-so delivery of a crime caper disguised as a Xmas movie. It’s quite annoying really as the beginning really strides nicely in the crime side of things but it begins losing that edge as the film goes on and on. Also the entire Harry Mitchell (I think that’s the name used) back-story never makes much sense.
Rafe Spall is a great deadpan actor to have as the struggling sceptic dad and his one note lines in places work fantastically well in painting him as a believable father trying to keep himself in his son’s good books but also not end up back behind bars. Jim Broadbent gets Santa just right and ho ho ho does he ever convince as good ol’ St. Nick. There’s a twinkle in his eye but he loses that just about enough as needed when trying to play a straight laced convict, the facial squints and get outta my face segment is a finer moment of the film. Kit Connor is a lovely new talent and as the innocent everyday child he plays the unstretching Tom well.
Fun to see an idea of getting Santa out of the clink but not dealt with as greatly as it had the chance to have. It’s more full of whimsy than grit and reindeer farting firmly makes it a more child friendly movie but this festive Shawshank isn’t all squit.