Satan’s Slave (1976)

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We generally like a bit of cult even if Satan is not our favourite person. As in film, so in life… This bit of erotic-minded tosh from film critic and sex/horror author David McGillivray’s output commences with a witch gathering deep in Surrey and is followed up PDQ with a rape by Stephen, scion of the household. Lovely. Then a girl called Catherine (Candace Glendenning, Rashel from Blake’s 7) on a car trip with her parents to see an uncle they’ve never met, crashes into the entrance to this den of iniquity, the car explodes. So now she’s an orphan. She inexplicably stays in the care of moustachioed Michael Gough as her doctor uncle, has her folks buried on his property and then waits for her body to be turned into a vessel for ultimate evil. As you do. We don’t dislike McGillivray because he writes for Julian Clary, the most brilliant and outrageous standup comedian I have had the pleasure to see live. But this is really not Sunday morning viewing even if the setting is alarmingly familiar. Ho hum!

The Holiday (2006)

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What a cast. And it’s seasonal too! Christmas in April, as Preston Sturges didn’t write (for him it happened in July…) This is writer/director Nancy Meyers’ most explicitly essayistic film about love – and movies. Kate’s a society columnist in London in love with engaged Rufus Sewell, who wants her as his mistress;  Cameron is the LA trailer-maker shacked up with cheating Ed Burns.  They swap homes for the vacation and love turns up on their respective doorsteps.  One learns to cry for the first time in years, the  other learns to stop. Meyers takes knowing swipes at Hollywood genres, gets these impressive professional high-achieving women to rewrite the conventional ending and leaves us all with serious home envy (I have Kate’s, I want Cameron’s.) As in all of Meyer’s films, this is knowingly subversive with some home truths and life lessons (many coming from the wonderful Eli Wallach, the screenwriter neighbour who hasn’t worked since 1978) and there’s a surprise walk-on from Dustin Hoffman not to mention the stars of the film-within-a-film (alright, I won’t!). A film that repays repeat viewings. And if you want to read more about Meyers and her work I’ve written a book that takes you from her debut, Private Benjamin (1980) through It’s Complicated (2009). Pathways of Desire:  Emotional Architecture in the Films of Nancy Meyers is for sale on Amazon.

The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

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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?