“For me, a Christmas movie is something more than a story that directly addresses the more obvious trappings of the holiday season,” says writer, director and sometimes actor (and fellow freelancer) Justin Trefgarne who shares his top ten list of British films to watch over the holidays.
“I guess all of our ideas of appropriate Christmas viewing are shaped by our formative years, but for me the core criteria are, perhaps, the looser ideas of winter weather – preferably thick snow; spectacle and length – this is the time for big stories; family – in any configuration; and adventure – by which I mean trying something old, even obscure.”
Trefgarne says he has been “a bit loose with the ‘Christmas’ part but every one of these is a film you could curl up with during the holiday, and again I’ve tried to include as much snow/Winter as possible…”
I love this film so much I even called one of my sons Fred.Justin Trefgarne
1. ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (2011)
Aardman’s CGI masterpiece overflows with heart and soul, as you’d expect from the unrivalled British animation studio.
2. THE GOLD RUSH (1925)
Set in 19th Century America but written, directed by and starring London-born Charlie Chaplin. Anyone who’s been taught by me knows my passion for the silent film genius, and this snowbound masterpiece is hilarious, heartbreaking and just so damn inventive it never fails to blow my mind.
3. TOP HAT (1935)
Fred Astaire was an Anglophile whose greatest film is set in England so maybe this squeaked through as a British film. Either way, the exquisite song and dance numbers have never been surpassed; Ginger Rogers supplying equal ballast to Fred’s talents in every single department. I love this film so much I even called one of my sons Fred.
4. WITHNAIL AND I (1987)
Not really a Christmas film but quite possibly the funniest British comedy ever, loosely based on writer-director Bruce Robinson’s experiences as a struggling actor in 60s London. Endlessly quotable, it’s also a film touched with a quiet sorrow that finally spills over in the final moments, with Richard E Grant’s Withnail reciting a speech from Hamlet, alone, to some indifferent animals at London Zoo.
5. THE LION IN WINTER (1968)
Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn (winning her third Oscar) and a youthful Anthony Hopkins (in his movie debut) star in this Royal drama set over the Christmas of 1183. Verbal fireworks, family politics and a charisma overload from the leads all combine to transcend any notions of it merely being a ‘period movie’.
6. GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946)
I know this should be A Christmas Carol, but David Lean’s adaptation of this (other) Dickens classic has never been surpassed. The camera work, the performances, the mood are all perfect. It scared the life out of me when I first saw it as a child and has haunted me ever since.
7. ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)
When I was growing up, no British Christmas Day was complete without a Bond movie. Although it would be tempting to offer up a tribute to the one and only Sean Connery, this is one of 007’s most satisfying outings in terms of story and character. A spectacularly snowy addition to the series, it features the closest we’ll ever get to Bond having a soul while Louis Armstrong sings one of the series’ most gorgeous theme songs.
8. KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (1949)
It’s the MetFilm School, so no need to really explain why this is here. It’s one of the best of all the Ealing Comedies and easily the darkest, with Alec Guiness playing pretty much everyone.
9. THE THIRD MAN (1949)
One of the finest movies the British ever made – maybe even the finest. A Graham Greene script, a zinger of a plot set in a partitioned Vienna just after the end of WW2, a hypnotic theme tune, Orson Welles at his most devilishly seductive and the greatest closing shot in the history of film.
10.PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2005)
I have a personal connection to this one, as I was story editor for the production which meant I got to work with Emma Thompson on her (uncredited) rewrite and hang out with Donald Sutherland on set. This and many more experiences besides contributed to this being one of the most satisfying professional experiences of my life. And I think it still holds up; the final moments where Lizzie Bennet and Mr Darcy are united as the dawn breaks over the fields is one of the most romantic moments I can think of in any film. Joe Wright had a lot to prove with this one, and he over-delivered.
Who is Justin Trefgarne?
“After a spectacularly poor attempt to be a movie star Justin sidestepped into directing theatre, which was less lucrative than driving a van for the BBC, which he did before somehow becoming a development executive at UK production company Working Title for four years. After nearly getting fired for making a short film in his spare time, Justin left WT to become a ‘full-time writer and director’.”