A young boy’s quest to find hope and love
REVIEWED BY Fazmina Imamudeen
When the cold winds of winter announce the advent of the holiday season with promises of love and hope, one can’t help but want to bask in the sensations of cosiness they evoke.
The 2021 Netflix original film A Boy Called Christmas delves into the magical and meaningful origin of beloved Saint Nicholas. It does so with unwavering faith in magic and hope. Having a different view on Santa’s beginnings rather than those found in other Christmas family films, has helped this movie become a fan favourite.
This movie opens in modern-day London with Maggie Smith playing a ‘Mary Poppins-esque’ great-aunt to three siblings. Since their mother had died recently, no one is in the mood for Christmas. And then Aunt Ruth begins reading them a bedtime story on Christmas Eve…
Ruth declares emphatically: “Because the universe is made of stories, not atoms” – before telling a story of a young child named Nikolas who has experienced the same kind of loss.
It’s hard not to fall in love with A Boy Called Christmas, a heartwarming story with a fresh perspective on the universal holiday.
After listening to Aunt Ruth’s story, and although still grieving their mother’s death, the three children begin to see things in a new light. Like Nikolas, around whom the story revolves, they realise that a happy ending is possible even without magic spells, talking mice or roving bands of mischievous elves. There is goodness and charm in them as there is in Nikolas, despite the impossibilities and hardships of life.
The 2015 novel of the same name written by Matt Haig is the inspiration for the Netflix original – a fantasy film directed by Gil Kenan. And the exceptional cast and characters of A Boy Called Christmas lend even more vibrancy to the movie adaption, which is already very colourful.
Probably best known as Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter series, Maggie Smith plays Aunt Ruth, whose witty and sarcastic jokes leave one with a feeling of warmth – although she is no conventional great-aunt or granny.
Henry Lawfull plays Nikolas/Christmas with such childlike awe and sincerity that even the film’s more sinister elements are bearable. Characters like this are challenging to portray because they risk coming off as flat or ridiculously naive. Though Lawfull does portray Nikolas as naive at times, the young actor always plays the part with a healthy dose of realism and resolve.
Lawfull lends genuine warmth and sincerity to his interactions with the various CGI creatures; but he really shines when paired with Zoe Margaret Colletti, whose impish Truth Pixie has an endearing glimmer.
This is intentional – the Truth Pixie is supposed to be a bit naughty! However, she is rather controversial too since her greatest pleasure is seeing people’s heads explode after they consume a certain kind of leaf…
A promising sign in the movie is that there’s no clear front-runner. The King (played by Jim Broadbent), who lends no ear to the plight of the people, may not have a prominent role but he brings the audience its biggest chuckles.
And it’s obvious that Kristen Wiig and Sally Hawkins love playing the parts of the over-the-top villains. To say that Stephen Merchant’s performance as A Mouse Called Miika (he was the voice actor) was fantastic would be an understatement. Superior intelligence and endearing charisma from a mouse who learns a language one word at a time.
Despite the clichéd motifs of a fairy tale in which bears chase and trolls attack; and where there is a nefarious aunt, an evil elf queen, magic and whatnot; Kenan and Ol Parker’s writing is heartfelt and endearing.
Kenan has directed the film with elan and his intelligent animated scene transitions seamlessly combine Aunt Ruth’s storytelling with Nikolas’ escapades.
“The darkest night will end. The sun will rise and Christmas mornings will come again when anything and everything can happen“Aunt Ruth