While our friends in the UK get to settle down in their sofas and digest their Christmas lunch to a batch of holiday specials, we on the American side of the pond get shafted in a big way. No Downton Abbey Christmas for us! If you, like me, aren’t in the mood to watch yet another stop-motion holiday special from the 70’s, fear not, there are plenty of wonderful costume dramas for you to enjoy, no matter what your mood or inclination. Here’s what to watch if you:
Are dealing with a lot of family drama: A Lion in Winter (1968)
Your family may be difficult, but chances are, they aren’t trying to kill you or usurp your throne or lock you away in some dank castle for the rest of your life. At least, I hope they’re not. Grab a cup of wassail and settle in to this superbly written and acted tale of one drama-riddled Christmas at the court of King Henry II and Eleanor of Acquitaine, the royals who wrote the book on love-hate relationships (between themselves and their kids). Either you’ll be nodding in agreement and wishing you could do the same things to your awful relatives that they’re doing to each other, or it’ll help put your own situation in perspective. Either way, it’s a totally worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours.
Love your Dickens at the holidays: A Christmas Carol (1984)
I know most purists claim the 1951 version with Alistair Sim was the best, but I prefer the George C. Scott Christmas Carol. It hews very closely to the book, has a great cast, and has the added bonus of actually being in color, which really adds something to the more exuberant spirits, like Christmas Present. Plus, Christmas Yet to Come is completely terrifying, as it should be.
Love the Royal Family: Victoria and Albert (2001)
Check out the Queen’s Christmas address, then pop in this DVD and skip ahead about halfway to the part where the adorable little royal moppets watch the enormous Christmas trees get delivered to Windsor Castle for the holidays. V&A helped popularize the Germanic tradition of having Christmas trees, and their family got really, really into the holiday. After that scene, the kids sweetly serenade the household staff with a rendition of ‘Silent Night’ in German. The harsh language never sounded so cute. Just make sure you turn off the movie before the end, which depicts a very newly widowed Queen Victoria depressingly decorating the trees as her husband’s body cools in the adjoining room. Something tells me the holiday lost some of its luster after that particular event.
Are looking for something for the whole family: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Muppet humor works remarkably well with Dickens; this version has Kermit and Piggy as the Crachits, Gonzo as Dickens, Statler and Waldorf as the hilariously unrepentant Marley Brothers, and Michael Caine as Scrooge. What can go wrong? Very little. It’s fun, funny, and a fairly good way to introduce kids to the classic Christmas tale.
You want something to haunt your nightmares forever: The Spirit of Christmas (1950)
Dear god. I never thought The Night Before Christmas would haunt my dreams, but it sure as hell does now, thanks to that horrifying demon Santa. And if you manage to make it through his part without having a heart attack or trying to kill it with fire, just wait until you see “Ma” wake up. My god. You’ve been warned. Watch it below, if you dare. Or show it to someone you hate.