Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

THE HOLLY AND THE IVY is an interesting British family drama set at Christmastime, which I just saw for the first time thanks to a Region 2 DVD from AmazonUK.

The opening credits are accompanied by a lovely orchestral rendition of the title hymn, after which we dissolve to various members of the Gregory family preparing to go home for Christmas.

Meanwhile, in a country village, Jenny Gregory (Celia Johnson) reluctantly tells her secret fiance, David (John Gregson), that she's not sure she can leave her widowed father (Ralph Richardson), a somewhat frail minister, in order to marry David and accompany him to his new job in South Africa.

The various relatives arrive home, and it turns out that Jenny's not the only member of the Gregory family with a secret. Her sister Margaret (Margaret Leighton) has been concealing a whopper for several years. And youngest son Michael (Denholm Elliott of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) doesn't know how to tell his father he doesn't want to go to Cambridge once his stint in the army has ended. Over the course of Christmas Eve and Christmas, the parson and his children learn to reveal their true selves and reach new understandings.

This is an interesting and absorbing film. It's somewhat somber in tone, as difficult problems must be faced, but it ends on an optimistic note, with truth telling, reconciliation, and hope for the future. Along the way there are lovely bits of music wafting in and out, as the choir sings in church and carolers repeatedly visit the Gregory home.

The script was adapted from a play by Wynyard Browne, and at times it definitely feels like a filmed play, with a talky script and most of the film, after the opening, set in the family home. For the most part, however, it's so well acted that the viewer becomes caught up in the drama and forgets the staginess.

The film is roughly 80 minutes long -- the DVD plays at 77 minutes due to "PAL speedup" -- and it perhaps could have stood to be a few minutes longer. For instance, the film gives short shrift to exactly why the Gregory siblings have had such a difficult time being honest with their father, who seems like a very nice and reasonable man, albeit a bit distracted at times.

The film's strangest note is that Jenny is supposed to be around 30 or 31. This comment was puzzling, as Celia Johnson was clearly older than that; indeed, in reality Johnson was in her mid 40s, and a good decade older than her costar, John Gregson, who was actually close to the age he claims to be in the movie. On the other hand, Ralph Richardson, playing Johnson's father, was just four years her senior! He looks believably older than Johnson, while Denholm Elliott was probably a decade older than his own character, but he looks quite young and gets away with it.

The film was directed by George More O'Ferrall. The cast also includes Hugh Williams, Margaret Halstan, and Maureen Delaney.

An interesting bit of trivia: Celia Johnson's brother-in-law was James Bond creator Ian Fleming; today her daughters are the owners of the Ian Fleming Estate.

THE HOLLY AND THE IVY makes a nice change of pace from the seasonal movie favorites. It's worth a look, particularly for fans of British drama.

December 2019 Update: This film is now available in the United States from Kino Lorber on both Blu-ray and DVD . My review of the Blu-ray may be found here.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

"The Holly and the Ivy" is a favourite in this family. I used to think of it as my first "grown-up" Christmas movie. So many of the lines and the performances stay with you - especially the two aunts. A thoughtful and rewarding film.

The play, at least up until a few years ago, was still popular with little theatre groups.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this movie! I like the way you describe it. Richardson really captured his character so well, in particular.

I can see this definitely lending itself well to a little theatre production.

Best wishes,

3:38 PM  
Blogger Lee R said...

Wow, this is a movie I saw for the very first time in the early 1980's on a really weak, fuzzy, barely visible UHF channel near the end of the UHF dial. Despite barely seeing it, it was so interesting and compelling to me, I couldn't stop watching. It was one of the most interesting and dramatic Christmas movies I had ever seen. That same extremely weak UHF channel would show that movie every year at Christmas time & I'd watch it each year, at least when I caught it. That station some years later went out of business and I never saw the movie again, till...

Such a great movie with real (to me) characters. Since then in recent times, about 8 years ago I found the movie available for sale on DVD, I just had to buy it. It was in NTSC format and looked very nice, even though I could see the TV station ID pop up every once in a while in the corner. Must have been a home made disc, but it looks good and am now happy to see it just about every Christmas again. But now I see it with a nice clear picture, so much better than the barely visible version I used to watch back in the '80's on that UHF channel. But I'm grateful for that old UHF channel for introducing me to a really fine film.

7:59 PM  

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