At first, I wondered if kids would soon be wanting a princess for Christmas. Imagine the chaos as parents scrambled the aisles to find some lady in a sparkling dress and tiara to gift wrap for their children. Thankfully, this movie is not about bringing someone or something home for Christmas, unlike say A Puppy for Christmas or A Christmas Tree for Christmas (I call that title, Hallmark) might be. Instead, it’s about a young woman who takes her niece and nephew abroad to visit their estranged grandfather, a duke who shunned his son when he married a commoner. It’s pure Anglophile bait and, as it happens, not very satisfying.
Despite some resplendent winter scenery, the movie can’t save itself from its lifeless characters, and they end up making the hackneyed plot even duller than it already is. Jules (Katie McGrath), the eponymous princess – and I’m sorry if I just ruined the ending, is an antiques dealer from New York who’s been taking care of her niece and nephew since their parents died last Christmas. The poor woman misses her sister and is frustrated by her inability to substitute as a parent, but the character doesn’t elicit much empathy, especially with McGrath’s soap opera-y tendency to squeeze scenes for tears getting in the way of real emotion.
That might make Sam Heughan who plays Ashton, Prince of Castlebury and uncle to the two children her perfect match. He and McGrath share a few laughs and smiles, but there’s not much sizzle between the two. The actor looks like he’s just stepped out of a Daks ad, but unfortunately his acting is two-dimensional as well. I actually put more blame on the bland script, which does little to develop his character. The most revealing scenes end up being the ones where Ashton tries to bond with Milo (Travis Turner), his troubled teenage nephew, and those bring a little warmth to the picture.
The most misused actor, however, is Roger Moore, who appears just enough to earn a paycheck and third billing. He’s a fine grump but doesn’t do much to distinguish his Edward, Duke of Castlebury from all the other Scrooges that populate holiday films. His substantial regret at the way he treated both sons and his grandchildren and then his attempt to rediscover Christmas joy feel too casual. Edward doesn’t lend the picture much emotional force and easily disappears into the background.
If I’m choosing a star of this film then, I’d pick Castlebury Hall, which beats the hell out of a ranch in Buffalo. The place looks like a castle from a 1000 piece puzzle set, and the snowy Romanian setting does the best job of evoking a fairytale Christmas.
(Update, April 16, 2016: So Outlander. My newfound love for James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, aka Sam Heughan, prompted me to revisit this movie, and no, it’s still not very good. But I did discover that our favorite Highlander fakes the violin, wears some truly tight white trousers, and commits himself to dance moves most often associated with drunk white dudes at a college house party. So while this isn’t Mr. Heughan’s best work, it’s a role Jamie Fraser fangirls can appreciate. Go on – imagine him holding your little paw and whispering, “You absconded with my heart.”)
Alt Title: A Christmas Princess
Prod: Brad Krevoy
Dir: Michael Damian
Writer: Janeen Damian, Michael Damian
Cast: Katie McGrath, Roger Moore, Sam Heughan, Travis Turner, Leilah de Meza, Miles Richardson, Charlotte Salt, Oxana Moravec, Alin Alteanu, Madalina Anea
Time: 90 min
Country: United States