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The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

The Holly and the Ivy theatrical.jpg

I suppose people who fall asleep in the snow must feel like this. The new channel Talking Pictures has brought back British films long out of circulation. This adaptation by Anatole de Grunwald of the 1950 Wynyard Browne play (which he based on his own family)  is one I haven’t seen since Channel 4 showed it in the 1980s during what was undoubtedly a horrible Christmas. It is an interpretation of a troubled postwar family dreading spending the holiday with their vicar father whom they wrongly presume to be very unknowing. The cast is wonderfully anchored by Ralph Richardson as the patriarch and there are some lovely renditions of carols including the titular one, my favourite. Martin Gregory (Ralph Richardson) is a widowed Anglo-Irish clergyman in Wyndenham, a village in Norfolk, who knows his parishioners better than his own children. Martin’s seeming detachment from his family is never more evident than at Christmas, when the family awkwardly and rather unwillingly comes together to celebrate. While Martin’s daughter Jenny (Celia Johnson) lives at home out of devotion, she doesn’t have the heart to tell him that she wants to move out and marry her dull but caring boyfriend David (John Gregson) who is about to emigrate to South America and wants to bring a wife. Martin’s devil-may-care son Michael (Denholm Elliott) gets out of national military service to spend the ill-humoured holiday.  His other daughter Margaret (Margaret Leighton) has initially decided to stay in London where she works as a fashion writer but also has a terrible secret that is driving her to drink – however she shows up and proceeds to get drunk and tells Jenny what has happened to her over the past decade. Why must you always crackle like ice?  Theirs is a prickly relationship based on a thorough understanding and, finally, sympathy. The actresses are expert at portraying their contrasting characters. This emotional reunion brings back memories of World War II and great hurts, and each child assumes that their father is an unworldly man who couldn’t possibly understand real life. Richardson and Leighton give wonderfully complex performances, with the fifty-year old Richardson proving a sly and wise old man who knows only too well what life is about. Do you think because I’m a parson I’ve a different attitude to life? He despairs of Christmas for different reasons – he thinks it has been take over by retailers and nobody remembers the birth of Christ. Margaret Halstan and Maureen Delany are brilliant as the aunts (reprising their stage roles) and it’s nice to see Hugh Williams in a good supporting role as the cousin, wishing he could spend the break in the west of Ireland. Proper Christmas viewing, tremendously set up and quietly devastating in its exposition of disappointed adult lives.  As well-made plays go, this is at the top of the seasonal list with its sensitive message of reconciliation and a ray of hope, along with an incredible score by Malcolm Arnold.  Directed by George More O’Ferrall and beautifully shot by Ted Scaife.  Do I seem the type of man that’d turn away from the sorrows of his own children? 

About elainelennon

An occasional movie-watching diary.

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