If you’ve come across A Very British Christmas expecting something along the lines of Love, Actually or Bridget Jones, then let me just stop you now because this isn’t it. There are no Christmas markets, chic London flats, or Colin Firths. This is more Emmerdale, except with sharper production values and duller storylines. And if you don’t know what Emmerdale is (it’s a long-running British soap based in rural Yorkshire), then maybe you’re American and the target audience for this befuddling film. At least that’s who I think the movie is aimed at. You don’t have to dig too deep to realize there’s nothing particularly British about it. Besides some picturesque shots of an English village, and a handful of northern accents, it’s basically a Hallmark movie.
And like a Hallmark movie, there’s not a lot in terms of story or character. Our American protagonist, Jessica (Rachel Shenton), finds herself stranded in Pine Falls after missing her train stop. She manages to bump into the one other American (Jennifer Bryer) in town, who hooks her up with some last minute accommodations. Jessica spends the night in a cottage owned by Andy (Mark Killeen), and it’s an arrangement that couldn’t have come at a better time for him. He’s doing his best to preserve his holiday rental business but feels squeezed by sluggish demand and those who want to buy his land for access rights to a potash mine. He’s also still dealing with the grief of losing his wife while trying to raise their young daughter, Katie (Isla Cook). Jessica, utterly charmed by the place, decides to help a guy out and suggests a fresh marketing campaign to get more visitors like her over there.
The plot works even if it’s not all that exciting. Some originality might be nice, but I’ve been watching Hallmark movies for two solid months so I can’t complain. Jessica’s story could use some tweaking though. She’s a world class opera singer en route to Vienna when her plane is diverted. For some reason, she doesn’t stay at the airport awaiting the next flight but decides to hop a train for some seriously out of the way lodging. Surely she’d just fly to somewhere, anywhere in Austria so she’d make it to her performance, but my logic and movie logic are two different things.
The more confusing part is why she decides to stay in Pine Falls despite the urging of her agent. Apparently it’s no big thing to bail on performance commitments when you’re one of the country’s biggest opera stars. She gets multiple chances to leave but doesn’t take them because of her sudden attachment to this idyllic town and her gracious hosts. While it’s easy to see her affection for little Katie and Andy’s mom (Michele Dotrice), her attraction to Andy remains a mystery. Even when the two are confessing their feelings for one another I have trouble believing it. I’ll grant that some chemistry exists, but it’s not romantic and instead the genial cottage owner/tenant kind.
The film is also curiously devoid of people. Aside from those with speaking lines, no one seems to live in Pine Falls. Jessica’s American friend promises her she’ll meet plenty of Dickensian characters, but crotchety old Ben (Steve Evets) and his friend with the fake beard are the only ones with any color in this ghost town. At least the empty streets allow for some footage of Jessica strolling past very British village shops, which will either look lovely to you or like she’s shooting a music video. There’s some morning mist and sheep for good measure. These charming, bucolic images are about the only thing the movie has going for it though.
Dir: Steven Nesbit
Writer: Steven Nesbit, Karl Hall
Cast: Rachel Shenton, Mark Killeen, Isla Cook, Michele Dotrice, Jennifer Bryer, Steve Evets
Time: 90 min
Country: United Kingdom