IT’S a Wonderful Life. A Christmas Carol. Meet Me in St Louis. Undisputed festive classics. But they won’t be on your screens for a few weeks yet. What if you want to watch something sentimental and snowy on TV right now?
There’s no need to get out the DVDs, because Channel Five is already rolling out the filmic baubles at the rate of two every weekday afternoon and up to four on Saturday and Sunday. So, grab your Santa slippers, wrap yourself in tinsel and tune into the films that may not be unmissable, but are heartwarming, well-told tales to wrap pressies to. As many originate on the Hallmark Channel, it’s easy to think of them as Christmas cards come to life.
The Three Gifts (2009)
Beverley Hills Christmas, Small Town Santa, The Case For Christmas, A Nanny For Christmas ... It’s fair to say former small screen Superman Dean Cain isn’t averse to a holiday film. Cain plays childless toymaker Jack, who takes in three naughty wee tykes while his aunt’s orphanage is renovated over the holidays. The boys overhear Jack and wife Cherie talking about possibly taking in one of them full time. But who’ll get the gig? Yes, you’ve already guessed the ending, but it’s nicely played, well-written and charming as heck.
The Town That Christmas Forgot (2010)
Lauren Holly has the best name for a festive film actor, which may be why the longtime NCIS star gets so many parts in them. Holly plays high-powered businesswoman Annie, who gets stranded in a small town on the way to a Christmas break at a swanky resort. Nowhere, Colorado - really! - is dying since the mine closed and there’s no mobile phone reception; how could they possibly have a good time there? But little by little, the family rediscovers the Christmas spirit as they realise – of course! – that the values of a titchy community beat the big city every time.
A Christmas Visitor (2002)
Meredith Baxter’s family hasn’t celebrated Christmas since their son died in the Gulf War. Husband William Devane thinks it’s time they picked up their lives again. Then a young man who needs somewhere to stay over the festive season appears. Can they open their hearts to this stranger who seems strangely familiar? It’s unusual for a TV Christmas film to be so rooted in real-life tragedy, but a smart script, sensitive direction and expert playing ensure this works.
A Carol Christmas (2003)
Quick, *sniff*, bring on something silly: a modern reworking of A Christmas Carol starring a familiar face as a TV professional who hates the season of goodwill. Bill Murray’s Scrooged, you say? A Carol Christmas with Tori Spelling, say I. It’s a shameless rip-off, but come on: it features Gary Coleman and William Shatner as two of the ghosts, and despite all those years on Beverley Hills 90210, Spelling is decent company. Worth a watch once the brandy mince pies kick in.
Mrs Miracle (2009)
She’s not really called Mrs Miracle. That would be silly. She’s Mrs Merkel - a mysterious nanny who appears to help families in need. Specifically, Dawson’s Creek star James Van Der Beek’s, a young widower with no time for love and an inability to talk to his adorable twins about their departed Mom. Bring on Mrs Miracle! No, not as a girlfriend, she’s old enough to be his, well, auntie at least. Starring as the magical nanny – again, no points for originality – is Doris Roberts, making up for about 400 episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond. And if you like this one, the sequel, Miracle in Manhattan, will be along in a minute. Starring Lauren Holly.
A Grandpa For Christmas (2007)
When Marie has a car accident and winds up in hospital over Christmas, there’s no-one to look after her young daughter but her estranged father. The kid has never met Grandpa Bert. He’s not great with children - the clue’s in the daughter - so how can things possibly go well? Well, given Grandpa is Ernest Borgnine as an old hoofer, and the daughter is Father Dowling’s Sister Steve the Streetwise Nun (Tracy Nelson), I reckon you won’t regret finding out. It’s cheesy, but what goes better on a cracker?
A Mom For Christmas (1990)
There’s this sweet little girl but she has no mommy. And it’s Christmas. She wishes she had a mother to go down the shops with. And lo, her wish brings to life a department store dummy. Who then rides off on a motorbike with Andrew McCarthy. Sorry, wrong film. This isn’t Kim Cattrall, it’s even better - it’s Olivia Newton John, and her just sub-saccharine sweetness makes for a delightful watch.
Single Santa Seeks Mrs Claus (2004)
Father Christmas and his family regularly pop up in these films, with everyone from Angela Lansbury to Battlestar Galactica’s Tricia Helfer taking a turn as Mrs Claus. Here, It’s Steve Guttenberg as Nick, Santa’s somewhat disappointing son – destined to take over the family business, he hasn’t found a woman to be his Mrs Claus. Rather than have the elves knock someone up, Santa’s aide Ernst (Star Trek Deep Space Nine’s Armin Shimerman, shrunk to elfin proportions) generates a list of supposedly suitable women for him to visit. Crystal Bernard’s Beth isn’t on the list – so guess who Nick falls for?
All I Want For Christmas (2007)
Forget two front teeth, young Jesse wants a husband for his widowed mother, and he tells the world by winning a contest. Mother Sara isn’t delighted, while wealthy Roger sees a chance to grab some publicity by pretend-wooing her. With adorable playing from NYPD Blue’s Gail O’Grady and Ally McBeal’s Greg Germann, this is a cute confection to while away an afternoon. In real life O’Grady needs no help finding a chap – she’s been married six times.
One Magic Christmas (1985)
Leaving the best to last, the oldest film on this list is one I can’t resist. An unremittingly bleak spin on It’s a Wonderful Life, angel Harry Dean Stanton shows Mary Steenburgen that her life as a poor, harried mom with an unemployed husband and two demanding kids isn’t so bad. It makes Bridge to Terabithia look like Carry on Camping. But the brilliance of Steenburgen - I think the woman invented microexpressions - makes this difficult to stop watching. Elisabeth Harnois, who plays Steenburgen’s young daughter here, grew up to star with her husband, Ted Danson, in CSI, and roomed with her daughter in college. Presumably, everyone bonded over the despair of this film.