Now that Downton Abbey has ended its glorious run, we Americans need something to satisfy our taste for pageantry and manners. Enter Crown for Christmas, a perfectly timed and handsomely wrapped Hallmark movie featuring girl-next-door Winnie Cooper, aka Danica McKellar, aka Allie Evans, and real British person Rupert Penry-Jones. And while it doesn’t quite match the artistic pedigree of Downton (at least the first few seasons), it still appeals to our inner royalist and generates a few happy tears.
The story unfolds in typical Cinderella/Sound of Music fashion. After Allie is fired as a maid at a posh New York City hotel, she is invited to be the governess to Princess Theodora (Ellie Botterill), an irascible 10 year old who has a talent for getting the help fired. Of course, it’s easy to see that her shenanigans are nothing more than a cry for attention. The widowed King Max (Penry-Jones) of Winshire, himself suffering the after-effects of absent parents, is desperate to avoid his father’s mistakes but is too drowned in work to realize he’s straying down the same path.
Allie’s presence soon transforms the stuffy royal house, and her cheerfulness and clumsy lack of protocol begins to infect everyone around her. Theodora sheds her precocious ways now that she has someone who’s actually willing to join her in snowball fights and bug explorations. It’s also clear that King Max is enamored with this American girl who will invoke the 3-second rule at a major banquet. Some are unmoved by the new girl, however. Chancellor Riggs (Colin McFarlane) is not amused and champions snooty Lady Celia of Luxembourg (Alexandra Evans) for the diplomatically sensitive post of queen and wife.
Crown for Christmas hardly does anything new, but it treads the fairy tale trail with confidence. What makes it stand a little taller is the assurance of its storytelling and especially its acting. There are plenty of moments of wry humor to break up the faux seriousness of the piece. Pint-sized Botterill is also fantastic as Theodora and gives none of the cringe-worthy theatrics that her peers are given to. She is as comfortable being a little rascal as she is a little princess. She also shares a very natural chemistry with McKellar, who doesn’t try too hard to play up the “orphaned at a young age, raising a brother and sister alone on a thankless minimum wage job” part that she’s given. (Let’s also give credit to McKellar, who has a B.S., summa cum laude, in math and champions math education, for throwing in a gingerbread cookie fractions lesson.) Then there is Penry-Jones, or RPJ affectionately for those Adam Carter or Captain Wentworth fans. I was a little surprised to see him popping up on my mother’s favorite television channel, but there he is, doing what he does best – looking good and literally riding in on a horse to save the day.
Dir: Alex Zamm
Writer: Neal H. Dobrovsky, Tippy Dobrovsky
Cast: Danica McKellar, Rupert Penry-Jones, Ellie Botterill, Emma Burdon-Sutton, Pavel Douglas, Alexandra Evans, Amy Marston, Colin McFarlane
Time: 83 min
Country: United States