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Five must-watch Christmas movies if you’re sick of hyper-romantic narratives

Five must-watch Christmas movies if you’re sick of hyper-romantic narratives

Five must-watch Christmas movies if you’re sick of hyper-romantic narratives

By Sydney Radclyffe for

The past few years have seen a rash of hyper-romantic Christmas movies, with titles like A Christmas Prince and Merry Kissmas dominating the yuletide scene. 

If you’re sick of the sappiness, it can be hard to know where to turn – after all, most of us end up watching the same stalwart specials year after year. Of course, the holidays are a time to unwind with family and enjoy festive traditions, but who says our viewing options can’t be just a little inspiring? 

This year, we’ve put together a list of five Christmas movies which resist tired romance narratives, or which couldn’t have been made without instrumental women working behind the scenes.

1. Last Christmas (2019) directed by Paul Feig, co-written by and starring Emma Thompson, lead role Emilia Clarke

Last Christmas – Emilia Clarke – Photo Credit: Universal / YouTube

The trailer for ‘Last Christmas’ suggests a holiday romance like any other. But, the story actually only uses ‘boy-meets-girl-under-the-mistletoe’ as a jumping-off point. Before you know it, you’re drawn into the messiness of real-life and all its un-Christmassy complications.

Without giving away too much, ‘Last Christmas’ manages to navigate issues like physical and mental health, second-generation family dynamics, and life as a woman in the city. The movie does all this with sensitivity and just the right amount of festive cheer.

Co-writer and ‘Love Actually’ legend Emma Thompson features as the mother of main character Kate (played by Clarke). Emma’s performance embodies the same wit, strength, and sensitivity that colours the whole film.

2. Let It Snow (2019) directed by Luke Snellin, starring Isabela Merced, Shameik Moore, Kiernan Shipka and Joan Cusack

Let It Snow – Jacob Batalon, Jon Champagne, Mitchell Hope, Jamie Champagne – Photo Credit: Netflix / Steve Wilkie

This year, Netflix pushes the boat out with an expansive, modern, truly funny tale for the younger generation, from the all-female writing team of Laura Solon, Victoria Strouse and Kay Cannon.

Set in a small town on Christmas Eve, ‘Let It Snow’ brings together three plotlines and an ensemble cast of young actors, weaving between a snowstorm, a last-minute party, and an abundance of family drama (Christmas, eh?).

While romance pops up as often as you’d expect in a teen-centric comedy, this largely steers clear of convention. Like many young people today, the characters deal with the pressures of familial obligation on personal relationships and burgeoning questions of sexual identity.

A whimsical thread of Christmas magic is woven throughout by the Tinfoil Lady, played by screen treasure Joan Cusack.

3. Carol (2015) directed by Todd Haynes, written by Phyllis Nagy, starring Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett

Carol – Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett – Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company

Although not a Christmas movie in the strictest sense of the word, ‘Carol’ is set during the festive period. The richness of detail put into the period costumes and settings, and its themes of courageous love in the face of adversity have boosted its status as a queer Christmas classic since the picture’s release in 2015.

Young Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is working at a Manhattan department store during December when she meets Carol Aird, a glamorous woman in the midst of a difficult divorce. As their friendship progresses into more, both women must forget what they know about attraction, family and obligation, and re-learn how to love through one another.

The screenplay, written by Phyllis Nagy, is based on the 1952 novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, and development on ‘Carol’ started in 1997. All in all, the movie represents a triumph of many women’s hard work, strength of vision and, most simply, love.

4. Mrs Santa Claus (1996) directed by Terry Hughes, starring Angela Lansbury

Mrs Santa Claus – Charles Durning, Angela Lansbury, Michael Jeter – Photo Credit: 1996 Hallmark Entertainment

We’ve seen a few gender-swapping Christmas movies over the years, including Disney’s newly-released ‘Noelle’. But, as with most things touched by Angela Lansbury, ‘Mrs Santa Claus’ is undoubtedly the original and best. 

Released in 1996 as a TV movie, it has since become a staunch favourite of both young and old. Set in the year 1910, Lansbury plays an under-appreciated Mrs Claus who takes matters into her own hands when Santa gets stuck in his ways. She commandeers the sleigh and is forced to make an emergency landing in New York City, where she joins a diverse and vibrant community of locals and immigrants. Mrs Claus’ new friends draw her into issues like child labour and women’s suffrage, all while she tries to return to the North Pole to save Christmas.

5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947) directed by George Seaton, starring Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, John Payne

Movies like ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ are the most persuasive evidence that, in some cases, there’s just no beating a classic.

Released in 1947, it offered one of the first on-screen portrayals of Santa Claus. This image became fixed in our cultural memory, shaping how we picture the jolly man in red to this day.

The story centres around a little girl, Susan (Natalie Wood in her first role), being raised by a busy, professional single mother, Doris (Maureen O’Hara). When Doris accidentally gets the real Kris Kringle to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a crisis of morals and beliefs is unleashed on the stuffy, conformist, money-hungry world of postwar Manhattan. In the midst of this, a little girl must learn for herself the difference between right and wrong, and the true meaning of Christmas.

In the words of Kringle, “Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind.”