Director: James Head
Cast: Briana Evigan, Paul Campbell
Watch Once Upon a Holiday online in the UK: Netflix
Every day until Christmas Eve, we unwrap another one of Netflix UK’s Christmas films and sort the naughty from the nice. It’s the #12DaysofNetflix. (Click here for the full list.)
It is a truth universally acknowleged that anyone in possession of the Hallmark TV channel will be bombarded with terrible original movies, invariably featuring Christmas, princesses, or, if you’re really unlucky, both. You’d think that, being in the UK, we would be spared from this drivel, but sadly, Netflix continues to snap them up for unsuspecting Brits to stumble across, while looking for something seasonal to stream. Which brings us to Once Upon a Holiday, the tale of a princess who runs away for Christmas, because she’s tired of her life of privilege. You know, that really horrible privilege with all of its riches, trinkets and job security. Privilege sucks, right?
The breaking point for Katie (Briana Evigan) is being told she can’t go to visit her favourite photo gallery in New York, during a trip to the city. And so she flees the royal family and her overbearing Aunt Margaret, hoping to swap her schedule of speeches and meetings for some good old everyday common folk time. Because deep down, she’s just like us, see? She likes art galleries. She hates meetings. She even has a vintage camera to take pictures, so she’s cool, like those Instagram kids.
Within minutes of being on the street, though, she’s robbed by members of the general public – typical non-royals! – and is left without her purse and without her vintage camera. Oh, no! How will she take photos now?
Fortunately, a stranger comes to her aid: Jack Langley (Paul Campbell). He’s a handsome male man and he likes carpentry and home renovation, so we know he’s a good egg. Bumping into each other several times during the day, they end up falling in love, something that nobody ever expected to happen. A runaway princess and a normal man of the people? What a novel idea.
The film continues along those lines for 90 minutes, moving from convention to convention with a formulaic precision. There’s the scene where her secret is dangerously close to being discovered by Jack. There’s the scene where her controlling aunt learns to understand her niece. There’s the scene where her intimidating-but-really-quite-nice bodyguard conspires with her to help avoid detection. (Curiously, there’s no scene in which someone suggests every royal family seriously bumps up their security to stop all these princesses running away.)
If only it were done with some wit and spark, this might work, but despite the game performances from Paul Campbell and Briana Evigan, David Golden’s script resolutely refuses to let anyone have more than two dimensions. Instead, it gives us cut-out characters such as Harry, Jack’s friend who runs a magic shop and is able to pull exposition out of thin air at a moment’s notice. “She told him she didn’t sign on for some guy with power tools,” Harry tells Katie about Jack’s ex, with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer. “You like Christmas and photography,” Jack later tells Katie. “What more do I need to know?” You can hear the filmmakers telling each other the same thing. The introduction of Jack’s brother, a news reporter assigned to cover the Montsaurai royal visit, leaves you in no doubt about where things are headed. And yes, it rhymes with “fart salary”.
There are brief moments of potential, from a set piece involving lots of people dressed up as Santa so Katie can blend in to a soundtrack that unashamedly references every seasonal song you could think of, but compared to something like Israeli rom-com Beauty and the Baker, a conventional star-crossed lovers tale that captures the strains of a social divide with honesty, heart and hilarious secondary characters, this dreadfully mediocre slush is not an affair to remember.
Once Upon a Holiday is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.