This Is Christmas may have the worst title of 2022's festive flicks, but it is the best Christmas romcom this year. Starring Kaya Scodelario and Alfred Enoch, the Sky cinema outing has just enough sugary sweetness, coupled with a hint of sombreness, and – of course – a happy ending to make it a perfect Christmas movie.
Enoch stars as Adam, the slightly idealistic head of his own advertising agency who gets the same train every day from Langton to London, seeing the same cast of characters along the way. Most important amongst the commuters is Scodelario's Emma, a chef on the precipice of moving to Chicago with her boyfriend.
The duo are rounded out by a cast of familiar British greats: Joanna Scanlan, Timothy Spall, Sarah Niles, Ben Miller and Rebecca Root – plus the familiar Alexandra Roach, Robert Emms and more. The premise is slightly absurd, yes, but no more absurd than amnesia or a royal doppelganger.
Spurred on by Christmas spirit and blind idealism, Adam suggests throwing a Christmas party for the commuters who see each other every day on this train from Langton to London. His invitation is met with reticence, but slowly and surely the various commuters come around to the idea, and each other.
Their relationships unfurl slowly and methodically, including Emma and Adam's. Yes, they both have partners but it's clear from the outset that these relationships are fated to end. Because it's a Christmas romcom, you know what Emma and Adam's destination is, but the journey to get there features some surprisingly mature stops along the way.
Each of these supporting characters gets their own plot, too. Most moving is the budding relationship between Spall's Ray and the young Dean (Jack Donoghue). Scanlan's Linda also has her own emotional arc that leans into a trope we won't name, because spoilers, but the film handles it so delicately and so beautifully that you find yourself moved, not annoyed, by it.
This Is Christmas balances the spoonful of sugar requisite in this kind of film with a hefty dose of reality. There are some punchy one-liners ("staring at some woman's cleavage and nodding hello when she catches you is not knowing someone", and an overt dig at railway privatisation and Margaret Thatcher to name two) that ground the film firmly in the 21st century without over-egging it: there's a realistic use of mobile phone screens but no ugly interface on the screen to distract you.
And then there's the film's star power. Despite the subdued nature of the whole thing, both Scodelario and Enoch are charming, earnest and deft in their portrayals of young adults in the midst of their various crises and self-examinations that all of us go through.
There is one cringe moment from Enoch's Adam in conversation with his girlfriend, where the subject of wanting children comes up. While it's supposed to illustrate the gulf between them in terms of what they want, it comes off as vaguely Handmaid's Tale-y instead, a misstep we forgive.
Still, in the sea of underwhelming Christmas 2022 movies, This Is Christmas is a surprising breath of fresh air. Its measured pace (as opposed to the frenzied slapstick of some of its contemporaries) and well-rounded supporting characters create a rich tableau of modern life at the holidays, from a variety of ages, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.
The film knows better than to try and shove down our throats a narrative of 'love everyone despite their differences, even if those differences fundamentally oppose your right to medical care, equal access, etc' (ie, how to get along with your politically-opposite relatives at the holidays); we never get too in-depth into each character's politics.
In another film, it might result in relationships that feel thin or superficial, but This Is Christmas is aware of those political pitfalls and is choosing to recognise them without centring them, and in a way that somehow works. The characters know where they fit in each other's lives – they aren't each other's new best friends unless that relationship bubbles up organically based on shared ethics (which we get glimpses of later in the film).
Balancing this with aplomb, This Is Christmas has an ease to it that sets it apart from the rest of the 2022 festive film slog, and we can't wait to watch it again. And again!
This Is Christmas is now available to watch on Sky.
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