Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke in Last Christmas. PIC: Universal

Reviews, Screen

Last Christmas review: a memorable holiday movie

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A Christmas movie written by Emma Thompson and filled with George Michael songs? How could you go wrong? Well, luckily Last Christmas doesn’t put much of a foot wrong. Sure, it’s going to be difficult to live up to the hype that this is the new Love Actually, but do we really want another one of those? How many smug happy endings does one film need?

Thompson has shown herself to be an intelligent screenwriter, with her witty take on Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility garnering an Academy Award. Her credits also include the wonderful Nanny McPhee scripts as well as Bridget Jones’s Baby, so hopes were high that Last Christmas would at least match the appeal of the titular song, by the now sadly deceased Mr Michael.

Thompson’s had a little bit of help this time, with the ‘Story by’ credit shared with her actor husband, Greg Wise, and the screenplay co-credited to acclaimed performance artist Bryony Kimmings.

Thompson weaves so many positive socio-political themes and messages into it, without being too heavy-handed.

The film has as its leading lady the immensely popular Game of Thrones ‘mother of dragons’, Emilia Clarke, playing Katarina or Kate, as she insists being called, since she really doesn’t want to be associated with her Yugoslavian background and particularly not her pushy mother (played by Thompson in a too-small role, considering her comic talent). It also means Kate spends a lot of nights couch-surfing at friends’ places so she doesn’t have to head home. Clarke’s luminous presence and likeable performance ensure we’re on Kate’s side, despite her many faults.

Kate has been down on her luck for a long time and this is played out via her sleeping around with any guy she meets, a tendency to drink too much, and a general ‘bleh’ attitude towards life. It doesn’t help that she’s reduced to dressing as an elf for her job in a Christmas shop called Yuletide in Covent Garden. The shop’s owner, known as Santa (the ever-reliable Michelle Yeoh) because, well, it’s a Christmas shop, tolerates Kate’s tardiness and lack of responsibility because she can see that underneath her incredible selfishness, there’s something worthwhile there.

Then a guy comes into Kate’s life – Tom Webster, played by the charming Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding. Rather than jumping into bed with Kate like most of the other guys she comes across, Tom is a good listener and seems to just want to talk and spend time with her. He keeps telling her to “look up” as if to get her mind off her many gripes and to aim for something higher and more meaningful.

After Tom tells Kate that he volunteers in a homeless shelter, she finds herself there one night looking for him. He doesn’t turn up but Kate ends up volunteering – the start of a trend of thinking about others for a change. By now, some people might be starting to think that something about Tom doesn’t quite add up. But he does have an undeniably positive effect on Kate’s state of mind, to the point where she even starts to make amends with her mother and sister. Still, the story definitely veers from the expected girl-meets-boy rom-com scenario, and for interesting reasons.

This is definitely a memorable Christmas movie which, to this viewer, got better afterwards as I drove home thinking about it. Thompson weaves so many positive socio-political themes and messages into it without being too heavy-handed, with even the ubiquitous Brexit making an appearance when Kate witnesses a yobbo abuse a foreign couple on a bus because they won’t speak English. Kate’s own mother feels that the pro-Brexit vote means her already displaced family will be deported from the country they’ve called home for decades.

Director Paul Feig has done a lot of TV, including several episodes of the U.S. version of The Office and Nurse Jackie, and he also helmed the poorly received reboot of Ghostbusters a few years ago. With Last Christmas, he gets much better-quality material than that film and pays homage to many feel-good moments in other Christmas movies, particularly Love Actually.

Undoubtedly the George Michael soundtrack helps to keep the sing-along mood high, and it’s hard not to leave the cinema humming one of the hit tunes. Last Christmas is sure to be a hit this Christmas, next Christmas and many more to come.

Last Christmas is screening nationally from November 7.

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