Eli Wallach steals every scene when he is on the screen in The Holiday (les Vacances) one of my two favourite contemporary Christmas films. Not just mine, I stress, because when the subject comes up The Holiday and Love Actually – my other favourite – have been cited more than once by my pals.
Watching them again has been my plan for Christmas Eve for more than a month. They did not disappoint. The bonus this year was that I bought the DVDs, so I was able to watch the bonus features. Not all of them…I saved some for Boxing Day.
The films have two things in common – multiple performers and an English setting. Love Actually is a love poem to London. The Holiday reminded me of Hugo with that Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light quality when we see the English cottage for the first time.
Unlike Love Actually, I am not a fan of the individual actors who play the protagonists – Jack Black, Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz and Jude Law. Yet they managed to charm me time and again in The Holiday. The cast of Love Actually is huge. No matter how many names I list, I’ll miss someone – Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Rowan Atkinson and the absolutely irresistible Bill Nighy to name just a few.
Bill Nighy is the Eli Wallach of Love Actually, pulling focus every time he appears. You could argue that his Billy Mack was just a riff on his character in Still Crazy. You could but you shouldn’t. Billy Mack starts the film self-aware, and stays there throughout, unlike his Still Crazy character.
I admit that neither It’s A Wonderful Life nor A Christmas Carol, two classic Christmas films, were must-sees for me. White Christmas and Holiday Inn, on the other hand, define Christmas films of my childhood.
Love Actually and The Holiday are Christmas films of my maturity, with adult themes and an undercurrent of sadness that reflects reality – and awkwardness. Just like real life.