VOD film review: A Boy Called Christmas
James R | On 26, Nov 2021
Director: Gil Kenan
Cast: Henry Lawfull, Maggie Smith, Michiel Huisman, Jim Broadbent, Toby Jones, Sally Hawkins, Joel Fry, Zoe Colletti, Kristen Wiig
Where to watch A Boy Called Christmas online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW
“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” That’s the kind of wisdom on offer in A Boy Called Christmas, a festive fairytale based on the book of the same name by Matt Haig. We begin in the aftermath of grief, as three kids who have lost their mum find themselves taken in by their haughty Aunt Ruth (Maggie Smith). To help them, she tells them a bedtime story about a young boy called Nikolas (Henry Lawfull) and how he came to invent Christmas. What ensues is a flight of fancy that’s suitably warm and fuzzy, even if the script occasionally borrows some of that fuzz for its own logic.
Nikolas lives in Finland and is also experiencing a sense of loss, after the disappearance of his woodcutter dad (Michiel Huisman). He went missing while searching for a mythical city of elves – and so, when the king declares that he will award a prize to anyone who can restore hope and joy to the kingdom, Nikolas decides to follow in his father’s footsteps. Whether he’ll find the city, what he’ll find there, and whether those elves will have a lot of toys with them is hardly anybody’s guess, but A Boy Called Christmas isn’t here for the world-class plotting.
Adapted for the screen by director Gil Kenan (City of Ember) and Ol Parker, the story is a load of old baubles cobbled together. Snow, a reindeer, a sinister aunt (Kristen Wiig), larger-than-life woodland animals, a tyrannical ruler, Maggie Smith – the cocktail of festive tropes is so concentrated that it’s like watching a John Lewis advert turned into a feature film, or a piece of Narnia fan-fiction. But Kenan brings it to life with some genuinely gorgeous visuals, including Nikolas’ talking pet mouse (voiced with playful enthusiasm by Stephen Merchant).
The cast is also a big-budget affair, from Wiig’s wicked matriarch and Jim Broadbent as the marble-less king to the always-excellent Toby Jones as a key elf player. But the show belongs to Sally Hawkins, who’s having an absolute ball as the villain of the pace, strutting about like someone doing Maleficent cosplay but in the best possible way. “You have no idea how exhausting it is being this powerful,” she mutters to herself in one delightful moment, perfectly understanding the brief of balancing panto-like camp and heartfelt sincerity.
All those names, though, leaves the whole thing feeling too crowded for any of these characters’ emotional journeys to really have an impact. The script, in an attempt to tie together the fantastical centrepiece and its modern-day framework, gets a bit goop-y in places – “Grief is the price we pay for love, and worth it a million times over,” muses Maggie Smith, closer to Hook than Harry Potter. As a Christmas origins tale, A Boy Called Christmas lacks the profound simplicity of Netflix’s Klaus, but there’s enough charm and imagination amid the snowy muddle to make this story one to enjoy.
A Boy Called Christmas is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription. For the latest Sky TV packages and prices, click the button below.