The Holly and the Ivy (1952)


Annex - Laurel & Hardy (Big Business)_NRFPT_01

We kick off the festive season next Sunday, December 1st. with the Classic Film Club double bill comprising a …



The comedy short of all time provides our starter in Big Business (1929). Filled with pine aromas, this is a Californian dish combining Laurel and Hardy in a 20 minute sauté laced with door-to-door salesmanship …


The Holly and the Ivy (1952) is a uniquely British recipe.It provides a welcome alternative to the usual saccharine of Christmas fare in a vintage confection of quality filmmaking. The palate is teased here by the fragrance of Celia Johnson and Margaret Leighton, enhanced by the zest of a young Denholm Elliott and given body by the tangy gentleman’s relish of John Gregson. A squeeze of ‘pre-Doctor Who’ William Hartnell is added to bring out the rich seasoning of Ralph Richardson in a satisfying repast typical of its 1947 setting.


It is Christmas, 1947, and a widowed clergyman (Richardson) is zealous about tending his parishioners. His zeal has never been always shared by his grown family, however, who are arriving for the yuletide festivities. A soldier nephew (Elliot) also arrives, along with ancient aunts, Lydia and Bridgit; one rather prickly (like holly) and the other loving but clinging (like ivy). The setting is a remote, very English village now blanketed in snow to reinforce a sense of isolation. Emotions boil over, however, and the trials of their war years start to emerge as the younger generation’s guilty secrets begin to be relealed.


In comparison with the gritty, kitchen-sink realism that would later transform British films (in the 1960s), the clipped accents of these characters may seem dated. However, for audiences in austerity Britain, the issues touched on by this adaptation of a West End hit were daring in terms of the film’s honesty and humanism: the revelations of one of the youngsters in particular would have been quite shocking to spectators at the time.

Complete with laughter and tears, this very British feel-good film is a revealing record of a country on the cusp of dramatic social, economic and cultural change. As an Imdb reviewer comments: “Forget It’s a Wonderful Life, watch this film instead; it’s so much more real.”


Margaret Leighton (1922-1976), earned kudos at the Old Vic in the 1940s and 1950s with Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson. She later became something of a fixture of 1960s TV and played a character in five episodes Dr Kildare (1965). She was also (I am intrigued to learn) was in 1 episode of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. You may remember her also as (for me, the definitive) Miss Haversham in the 1974 TV version of Great Expectations.


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