When I talk about Christmas movies I’m not talking big-budgeted, sentimentally big-hearted efforts that hit the big screen like this year’s Last Christmas or perennial favourite Love, Actually. I don’t mean action blockbusters with tentative Christmas connections like Die Hard or those that are permanent fixtures on national television’s Christmas Eve and Day line-ups, like It’s A Wonderful Life, Home Alone and The Wizard of Oz.
What I’m referencing are those films made especially for TV usually starring a female lead that you’d sort-of recognise from her stint as a teen star. There’s often a cute kid involved and a pair of dead parents for the lead to get misty eyed over, and our heroine is something wholesome like a baker or elementary school teacher or on the flipside works in a corporate job that requires her, improbably, to return reluctantly to her home town to rediscover the magic of small-town life and to acquire a love interest along the way.
Christmas TV movies have been so reliable in their predictability that a drinking game conceived by an avid watcher of the Hallmark variety went viral a few years ago and for some viewers is now a vital part of the Christmas TV movie-watching tradition. It hits such targets as snowball fights, a mom-and-pop-business in peril and wisdom gleamed from the aforementioned dead parent, and will get you reliably tipsy by the time the lead has finally kissed her true love, who was either her high-school sweetheart or a blue-collar type whose country charm has melted her cynical city heart.
But now Netflix has come along and ruined it all with originality. A Christmas Prince: Royal Baby, one of the most anticipated Christmas movies to hit the schedules, popped up on Netflix last Friday. It’s the second sequel to the wildly popular A Christmas Prince, which told the tale of a sweet but sassy American journalist on assignment to Aldovia, a fictional country which appears to have taken the place of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzogovina and Serbia. She falls in love with the prince of said country, he ascends to the throne, they marry in the sequel and, as indicated by the title, are expecting a baby in part three.
While it had everything you’d expect from a Christmas movie; romance, peril, interfering child, antagonist that turns out to be a friend after all, it also threw an actual curse into the mix and a mystery surrounding the theft of an ancient artefact, crucial in maintaining good relations with neighbouring country Penglia. The least said about the fictional geography in the A Christmas Prince franchise the better, so we’ll quickly move on, but as corny and saccharine Royal Baby was, it made up for it with the truly ludicrous scene where Queen Amber solves the mystery and presents her findings to a room full of suspects while in the full throes of labour. A feat Poirot never accomplished, just saying.
The Knight Before Christmas, a Christmas TV movie of the magical variety, in which a knight from medieval England somehow finds himself in present day Ohio. There is a tentative link to A Christmas Prince; one of the characters comments on a souvenir picked up by her parents from a visit to Aldovia, so maybe in the fourth instalment Queen Amber will travel back in time or in to the future, considering magic exists in this universe (although poor Croatia doesn’t)?
Anyway, much the same happens in The Knight Before Christmas as any other movie of its ilk, albeit with a certain charm missing from some lower rent TV movies, from Vanessa Hudgens as the high school science teacher tasked with taking the knight under her wing after she clips him with her car and he’s presumed to have acquired a brain injury. As you put your disbelief in geography aside, do so too for this dodgy decision made by medical practitioners and watch instead with an open mind as romance unfolds among the culture clashes.
A YouTube trailer search will come up with at least two more royal themed movies (Vanessa Hudgens was even in one herself, last year’s The Princess Switch), so what was quite original in 2017 has now, along with bakeries, blizzards and babies become de rigour. So Netflix ruined killed the Christmas TV Movie after all, but amplified it to yet another level. They’re silly, forgettable and as disposable as your advent calendar on the 25th, but you could do worse than switching off for an hour or so to soak up the Christmas spirit, vodka or rum notwithstanding.
- First published in The Tuam Herald on 11th December 2019