Synopsis: Now she’s a household name, Emilia Clarke has decided to diversify. She heads up the cast of this seasonal rom-com, with a twist in the tale. She plays Kate (who doesn’t use birth name Katarina), the daughter of ex-soviet era immigrants. She is working in a Christmas store (owned by the character played by Michelle Yeoh) , as a helpful elf. She aspires to be a singer and is a life-long fan of the late George Michael. Her life takes an unexpected turn when she meets Tom (Henry Golding), who seems to only show up as and when he chooses.
There’s a very loose feeling to the plot, and nothing much driving it forward, to begin with. That helps to keep it more character-based, though. The interest is in a very ordinary person’s life and their pursuit of a dream. Seeing them have to sleep on friend’s floors and repeatedly get rejected at auditions is enough to give audiences reason to keep watching. Not the traditional style for a film of this sort. Other “trial and tribulations” films are more dramatic in tone. This film sees a much more realism based approach, and a more relatable depiction of depression. Viewers are also introduced to Kate’s personal version of a typically dysfunctional family.
An incident occurs that sees Kate have to re-assess what truly matters. That’s where things get a bit more traditional, and the plot now centres on her achieving what she has set out to do, as part of the new plan. This includes many other characters, who she tries to include in the show she decides to put on. What this allows is a heart-warming set of scenes that incorporates a wide-ranging spectrum of society, that’s a clever way of being representative, but not in any way that appears forced.
By the end of the film you have mixed feelings, but not in the sense that you’re confused. You get the feel-good aspect, and some sadness, too. Not in the way that you might expect. It takes a while to get where it needs to be, but once it does, everything else that happens along the way just about earns its place. The woman Kate works for (Michelle Yeoh) has her own mini-arc, too. That’s a fun touch, with some hilarious moments thrown in.
A world away from her Game of Thrones role, Emilia Clarke shines in the role of hapless comedy hero of her own story. She does awkwardness very well and has a natural way of silliness about her when that’s needed. When required, she can show the serious side of a fool, too. She plays both sides of the coin equally well and shows good versatility with one role.
Henry Fielding brings a sort of Mr. Darcy charm to the film, which is a little cloying at first, but that’s just the character, not the depiction. What he does well is express the pure of heart, which helps to really concentrate so much of what this film is about. he isn’t on screen for a good deal of the film, but when he is, he makes it count. A good choice of casting, with enough presence to make the big reveal hold some weight.
A good supporting cast includes Michelle Yeoh, playing “Santa” (not her real name), who owns the Christmas store where Kate works. Her on-screen antics capture how her character isn’t aware how funny she is. She’s also a good foil to the often careless Kate. That personality of Kate’s is also explored with her on-screen mother, the always wonderful Emma Thompson, who pulls of a brilliant Eastern European accent, and also shows well the effects of a bout of negative mental health. Many others collaborate to bring a diverse collection of characters to life, and each manages to bring something positive to the table.
There isn’t much in way of special effects going on here, as magical realism is more the order. London is well designed for the screen and the “every day” is incorporated very well. Scenes aren’t the usual storybook mode that depicts a Britain as everyone still being a Dickens character, or some other sort of caricature. The slapstick scenes are well-timed and enjoyable. No big stunt, or especially memorable scene requiring a specialist team to put it together. Good top lighting gives one character, in particular, an ethereal aura, that turns out to be important, making sense once you discover why.
What works in this film is the camaraderie between characters. A genuine sense of community, whether that be the awkward family scenes or the cobbled-together family that’s the many members of the local Community Centre. Perhaps most importantly there are some stand-out funny sequences, that makes for great viewing. A combination of slapstick and character study, the humour is nuanced and very much geared towards the British audiences. On that note, feelings of alienation and the topic of Brexit and the impact of it for many living here is also included, but not made the primary subject.
On reflection, the heartfelt moments, realistic behaviors and the twist that pulls everything together make for an enjoyable experience and a solid effort of a seasonal tale with a difference. The accompanying soundtrack of some of George Michael’s most well known songs also works well, and that he is gone, but his songs live on comes through as bittersweet. Slow to get going, but fun for the sake of the journey. This film is not an instant classic, but one that might be well described as a stocking filler that you’re glad to have got. Worth seeing, but best enjoyed at Christmas.
- Incidental Music8.2