Every year, there is this Christmas feeling all around. Or maybe it’s just the multiplication of Facebook notifications and posters for screenings of It’s a Wonderful Life, Love Actually and The Grinch. From your arthouse cinema to online platform, it’s invariably the same titles on offer every year. As wonderfully festive as those films are, if you are looking to change things up this Christmas and maybe go for something different, here are some suggestions for festive films that might be a bit less cliché, but equally good to cuddle up to with a mug of hot chocolate.
Three Wishes for Cinderella (Václav Vorlícek, 1973)
While this is not specifically a Christmas film, this 1973 East German/Czechoslovakian film production has everything that is needed to conjure up the festive spirit. There is not much that needs to be said about the story which is a slightly different (and surprisingly feminist) retelling of Cinderella’s fairytale, but that isn’t really what the film is about. Snowed in forests, sledges, huntsmen, fabulous costumes and just the right dose of fairytale magic — there is a reason why probably every German and Czech child grew up watching this film on Christmas morning. This is a beautifully nostalgic film, one that will take you right back to the time you needed your dad’s help to operate the VHS player.
We’re no Angels (Michael Curtiz, 1955)
Set in French-Guyana and shot in Technicolour, this film offers a nice escape from dark Scottish winters. Three convicts, (Aldo Ray, Humphrey Bogart and Peter Ustinov) and their pet snake escape prison on “Devil’s Island” on Christmas Eve 1895 and try to rob a family in order to make their escape to the mainland. The dialogue is witty and full of one-liners, and the cast adds to the charm of this 1955 production. This is a film that conjures up a naively perfect world in which remorselessly criminals are the good guys, and despite the tropical background and the total absence of snowflakes, We’re no Angels still manages to leave you with a warm, festive feeling.
Joyeux Noel (Christian Carion, 2005)
Set in the trenches of the first World War, this film is not your traditional Christmas kitsch. This 2005 French film stars British, German and French actors and shows the true story of the Christmas peace, when soldiers of opposing fronts agreed on a ceasefire over Christmas and instead celebrated together, singing Christmas carols and exchanging gifts. Joyeux Noel is not necessarily a film that leaves you enveloped in a saccharine blanket of bright Christmas lights. Instead, it is a film that shows a moment of humanity in an inhuman time and perhaps reminds us that Christmas, (regardless of nationality and even religion) can and should be a celebration of exactly that.
The Bishop’s Wife (Henry Koster, 1947)
Let’s switch James Stewart for another 1950s Hollywood A-lister this time around. If you don’t want to miss out on meddling angels for Christmas but you’re also not really down for watching It’s a Wonderful Life for what feels like the hundredth time, there’s hope. The Bishop’s Wife features Cary Grant in the role of the angel Dudley who comes down to earth to help Bishop Henry Brougham who struggles to raise the funds for his new cathedral and loses sight of the things that really matter. Dudley as the angel continues to charm everybody but Henry, who grows increasingly frustrated with how good his celestial helper seems to get along with everybody, particularly his wife Julia. Not as well known among the general public, The Bishop’s Wife is nevertheless a warm and charming film that sums up the spirit of the holidays and spreads the cheer that we come to expect from the best of Christmas films.