Roger Ratcliffe screens the latest releases so you don’t have to

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It’s that time of year again when jingling bells are drowned out by ringing tills, and nowhere do the tills ring louder than down at your local cinema.

Christmas is when Hollywood pays itself a big fat bonus. Right now the ka-chings are deafening, so on your behalf I’ve performed the selfless task of watching some of the trailers for this veritable blizzard of silver-screen offerings. Sadly, I have to report that compared to great Christmas films of yesteryear they look like mere stocking fillers. Any of us could make up this stuff.

My own formula would be: take a freak snowstorm, add teenage boy and girl who despise each other on sight, throw in a deer which has survived being hit by a car, cue thawing of boy-girl relationship as they nurse the deer back to health, sprinkle a touch of Santa magic in the shape of a white-bearded old man who makes wooden toys in a snowbound cabin, and end with a rescue helicopter piloted by Tom Hanks who turns out to be the old man’s long-lost son and father of the grandchildren he’s never seen. Ka-ching.

Every Christmas film has to contain what they call in the business a Kleenex moment. These are heartstring-tugging, tear-duct-challenging scenes like Kevin being reunited with his mom in Home Alone, or George Bailey’s discovery after his encounter with Clarence the guardian angel that, actually, It’s A Wonderful Life.

A couple of dire attempts at It’s A Wonderful Life remakes disappeared without trace. Someone described them as trying to repaint the Mona Lisa. That might also be said of the many remakes of Scrooge, the 1951 adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I’ve watched half a dozen of them and not one was as good as the original. The least said about Scrooged starring Bill Murray the better. That its only Oscar nomination was for best makeup says everything.

We all have our own personal Christmas film. Mine is Whistle Down The Wind, which was shot around the village of Downham near Clitheroe in Lancashire. Actually, it was a summer release and not originally seen as having yuletide appeal. All I know is it seemed to run at my local cinema every December when I was a kid, and became as much a part of Christmas as mince pies.

For those of you who haven’t seen Whistle Down The Wind, the film centres on three children who live on a farm beneath Pendle Hill, and one winter’s day they discover that a bearded man is living in their barn. Shocked at being discovered, the man blurts out “Jesus Christ!” and the children believe that’s who he is. Their secret is shared with other children in the area, and they bring him food and other gifts. However (spoiler alert) it turns out the man, a very young Alan Bates, is on the run from the police. After he is arrested, more children turn up to see Jesus only to be told that he’s gone but one day he will return. The allegorical storyline is not over-worked, and the effect is absolutely charming.

It cost £148,000 to make, compare to the $40 million spent on this season’s box office smash, Last Christmas. I know which film I’d rather watch.

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