The Greatest Store in the World (1999)


You can be sure there’s a story behind every superlative boast, and when it comes to The Greatest Store in the World, it’s not quite the magical emporium you expect. Things aren’t looking so great for young Livvie (Elizabeth Earl) and her family after their camper van explodes and they are left homeless. While she tries focusing on her part in the school nativity, her bohemian mother, Geraldine (Dervla Kirwan), tries looking for temporary housing, preferably on four wheels. The latter turns up empty-handed but announces an ingenious solution. They are going to live in Scottley’s, the greatest store in the world, at least until social services can get things sorted.

It’s up to Livvie to be the voice of reason in the family, which includes her younger sister, Angeline (Holly Earl). She cautions her mother against the recklessness of the plan and is too old to buy into her mum’s insistence that it’s just another adventure, since this probably isn’t the first time they’ve found themselves in this situation. Livvie has no choice though and does her best to play along for Angeline’s sake. The greatest store really lives up to its title after closing time and the sisters run wild in the Harrods-like behemoth. They’re instructed to only eat sell by food and not damage any packaging though because come on, they’re not thieves. They also have an S Club 7 dance party because it’s 1999.

Hanging around the mattress department or the camping gear every day during closing time is sure to arouse suspicions, however, and as they extend their stay, they have to find new ways to evade guard dogs and the doorman, a humorless man they’ve christened Mr. Whiskers (Peter Capaldi perfecting his creepy turn-of-the-century magician look). I’m not sure why they can’t use different entrances or why Scottley’s hasn’t installed security cameras, but there are other problems to worry about, like a shifty Santa (Ricky Tomlinson) and his elf (Sean Hughes). You’d expect a fancy department store to have higher standards when it comes to hiring, but Scottley’s doesn’t seem to mind its crass, chain-smoking in-store entertainment.

Based on a book by Alan Shearer, the story is a good one to tell during Christmas, It’s nice for kids to know that the holidays are not all merry and bright for everyone. Livvie is mature beyond her years, but what the girl should really be dealing with is how to avoid her bullying classmates, not how to avoid getting sent to foster care. I’m in favor of giving kids a more challenging picture though, and if we’re looking at Christmas movies about children and homelessness during the holidays, I recommend Where God Left His Shoes. It’s not a gritty docudrama by any means, but it does strike a more emotionally powerful chord.

Released: 1999
Dir: Jane Prowse
Writer: Alex Shearer
Cast: Dervla Kirwan, Elizabeth Earl, Holly Earl, Peter Capaldi, Helen Schlesinger, Ricky Tomlinson, Sean Hughes, Brian Blessed
Time: 73 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Network: CBBC
Reviewed: 2016