Saturday, December 11, 2021

Stubs - The Holly and the Ivy


\The Holly and the Ivy (1952) Starring: Ralph Richardson, Celia Johnson, Margaret Leighton Directed by George More O'Ferrall. Screenplay by Anatole de Grunwald. Based on the stage play The Holly and the Ivy by Wynyard Browne. Produced by Anatole de Grunwald Run time 83 minutes UK Black and White Christmas, Drama

There are plenty of Christmas classics made in Hollywood but they certainly don’t have the market to themselves. However, the British have made their fair share of Christmas classics not all of which are based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Case in point, The Holly and the Ivy from London Films.

Based on the 1950 play of the same name, The Holly and the Ivy was rehearsed almost as a play for three weeks on the finished sets, then shot the film in fourteen days, in sequence. Released in the UK on December 22, 1952, the film didn’t get a US release until February 4, 1954.    

The film deals with one of the more common Christmas storylines, a dysfunctional family gathering to celebrate the holiday. The films opens with the invitations being sent in the mail to various family members to come to Christmas at the home of Reverend Martin Gregory (Ralph Richardson) in the remote village of Wyndenham in Norfolk.

Eldest daughter Jenny Gregory (Celia Johnson) is in a
secret romance with David Paterson (John Gregson)

Before the family arrives, Jenny Gregory (Celia Johnson), the eldest daughter is trying to get everything ready. After the death of her mother, Jenny has dedicated her life to taking care of her father. This devotion has meant that she has had to put the rest of her life on hold, including her romance with  David Paterson (John Gregson). An engineer he’s about to take his dream job but that means he’ll have to move to South America. He wants to take Jenny with him as his wife but she doesn’t feel like she can leave him.

Their only hope is that her younger sister, Margaret (Margaret Leighton) would come home in her stead. But that seems unlikely. Not only has Margaret not been home for several years but she is a somewhat successful fashion writer based in London. However, when her ride Richard Wyndham (Hugh Williams), a businessman, relative and her Godfather arrives he informs the family that she was ill with the flu and not going to make it.

The two aunts, one from the mother’s side and one from the father’s side, the ever-complaining Aunt Lydia (Margaret Halston), and the ever-talking Aunt Bridget (Maureen Delany), do arrive together. And when they learn of Jenny and David’s stunted romance, they try to encourage Martin to retire. While he feels that he’s not always appreciated by the town, he does feel that he has several good years yet.

Michael (Denholm Elliott) almost loses his 48-hour pass when
 he tangles with 
Company Sergeant Major (William Hartnell). 

His son, Michael (Denholm Elliott), who is in the Army, does make it home but barely. He almost loses his 48-hour pass over his insubordination of a superior officer, Company Sergeant Major (William Hartnell). But the Major (Robert Flemyng) is sympathetic and lets him go.

Micheal is confronted by his two aunts, the ever-complaining Aunt
Lydia (Margaret Halston) and the ever-talking Aunt Bridget (Maureen Delany).

Margaret does finally show but she needs a drink to settle herself before meeting the rest of the family.

Michael returns home on Christmas Eve drunk after going to "the cinema" with sister Margaret.

As it turns out, the grown children no longer really enjoy Christmas and find staying with the family rather boring. Under the guise of going to the cinema, Margaret and Michael sneak away. Only instead of the cinema they go to the pub where they get drunk, which gives Aunt Lydia something else to complain about.

Margaret (Margaret Leighton) finally come clean with her father
Ralph Richardson) and discovers that he's more understanding than she imagined.

The next morning is Christmas, Martin’s busy day, though he knows he’s preaching to people anxious to get home. Between services he runs into Michael, who relates to him Margaret’s secret that she has only recently shared with him and Jenny. Turns out, during the war, she was in love with an American soldier who was killed. However, she was pregnant with his child, a boy named Simon. Good friends of hers helped raise him so that she could pursue her writing career. A year ago, Simon died and Margaret began to drink heavily.

No one in the family feels that they can be truthful with their father since he is a vicar and neither Margaret or Michael believe in God. However, both children learn that their father is more understanding than they assumed. He is disappointed that they consider him unapproachable.

Martin and Margaret finally have a heart-to-heart talk and she tells him the whole story.

Michael, who has resisted, finally relents and says he will go to university, as Martin wishes, when he completes his national service. Margaret agrees to turn her back on the London life she secretly hates and will live with Martin so that Jenny can marry David and go to South America. The entire family is in harmony at church as the morning service begins.

While this is not your standard festive film for the holidays, it is still worth watching. The best thing about the film is the fine acting, which starts with Ralph Richardson. He plays Martin pitch-perfect. He is a quirky off-beat character who is still full of warmth. He is the one character that in some ways we learn the most about but not through any revelations that may come but rather through how he deals with the revelations from his children.

My biggest complaint about the film is that the ending seems rather rushed. Maybe that's how the stage play ends, but after all the soul-searching and revelations, it seems that everything not only comes together neatly but very quickly as well. I wouldn't have minded if they took a few more minutes to tie things up. 

While Michael deciding to go to college sort of slips by, Margaret's decision seems more monumental. She is giving up her life in London to return home to play care-taker. It is a noble endeavor but she comes to this decision very quickly. One has to wonder if she won't resent it sometime in the future.

But the important thing is that everyone is back together for what may be their last Christmas together and at least at this moment are happy about it.

Issues with the denouement aside, the film features some very good acting, starting with the film's lead.

Ralph Richardson as Reverend Martin Gregory in The Holly and the Ivy.

Ralph Richardson, along with John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier, was one of the trinity of male actors who dominated the British stage for much of the 20th century. In addition, he would appear in more than 60 films, including Things to Come (1936), The Fallen Idol (1948), Long Day's Journey into Night (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965). He was twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, first for The Heiress (1949) and again (posthumously) for his final film, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984).

Denholm Elliott began his film acting career with Dear Mr. Prohack (1949). However, he may be best known for his roles in Alfie (1966), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Trading Places (1983), and A Room with a View (1985), for which he would receive the Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Here he is in a supporting but critical role of the son Michael, who isn’t really sure what he wants to do with his life. A bit of a bad boy he is who he is in part because of who his father is.

Celia Johnson, perhaps best known for her role in Brief Encounter (1945), for which she received an Academy nomination for Best Actress plays the silently suffering Jenny. While she wants to marry David she doesn’t even want her father to know of their engagement. She is really very good in the role.

One of my favorite performances is John Gregson’s turn as David. He is the best thing that could happen to Jenny and he doesn’t want to miss out on happiness with her. He is, however, torn between having to wait for her and the job opportunity of a lifetime and that shows in Gregson’s performance.

Margaret Leighton gives a strong performance as the daughter Margaret. Her apparent happiness with her life is just a façade as she carries with her secrets and dark memories that she is too ashamed of to even tell to her siblings let alone her father. She seems to have the most at stake on this holiday as her life seems to be taking the biggest turn of all. 

Margaret Halston and Maureen Delany, Aunt Lydia, and Aunt Bridget, respectively are the only cast members reprising their roles from the stage play. Their performances seem to compliment each other and it is clear that the two actresses work well together.

The film rarely ventures outside the vicar's cottage and it is easy to tell the influence the original play seems to have on the finished film. As mentioned above, even the rehearsals and the filming in sequence lend themselves to this comparison. The beauty is that the film's great performances are captured and can be seen over and over again.

While The Holly and the Ivy may not be at the top of your list of Christmas classics, it is definitely worth watching. The acting is so good that you will find yourself getting absorbed in the characters' lives. And the happy ending, though rushed, seems right for a film about the Christmas season.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

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