Father Christmas is Back (2021) – Film Review

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Directors: Mick Davis and Philippe Martinez
Cast: Nathalie Cox, Kelsey Grammer, John Cleese
Certificate: 12A

By Roger Crow

It’s a Monday night in the autumn of 2020, and Howden market place has been taken over by a film crew.

Highfield Grange Studios, located six miles away in Bubwith, have set up camp transforming the place into a festive paradise. Christmas tree, lights, the works.

Like many locals, I spent an hour or two on set, watching the cast do their thing.

Fast forward to now, and after a year and a bit of filming and editing, the movie finally arrives on Netflix, but is it any good?

Well, there are certainly no problems in the cast department.

Kris Marshall does his deadpan thing as the long suffering husband who has been married for nearly 18 years, but he and his wife (Nathalie Cox) have been sleeping apart for 18 months.

Their far from humble abode (actually Birdsall House on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds) is worth about £1billion, and the perfect setting for family festive shenanigans. As we all know there’s nothing funnier than trying to get on with estranged family members at Christmas while staying in a mansion the size of York. Or maybe we don’t.

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“Looks fabulous”

Also in the mix is Liz Hurley, who still looks phenomenal, as an uber bitchy sister. She’s Joanna, a fashion editor who goes through men in three-month cycles.

Her latest boyfriend, Felix (Corrie veteran Ray Fearon) may be at the end of the latest cycle, but his car is worth £300k, so he’s obviously not going to be too distraught if she dumps him.

John Cleese does his blustering old buffoon routine, which is always a pleasure. Then it’s the star of the show: Kelsey Grammer, who naturally turns up in the sort of black cab never seen in the area. But who cares? When he arrives with a none-too-bright trophy girlfriend (which might have been funny in 1971), the family are shocked.

He’s the British dad whose surname happens to be Christmas. He lost his English accent, and now lives in Miami, where he dates a series of young women.

Grammer is superb in one of two locally shot films he made in or around Howden (Miss Willoughby and the Haunted Bookshop will also turn up at some point).

The whole thing looks fabulous, and there is the odd laugh out loud funny gag. An early one about the National Theatre was brilliantly delivered.

Solid support comes from Caroline Quentin and Tallulah Riley, while Katy Brand is splendid as a comedy Yorkshire vicar.

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“Ensemble magic”

For the most part it has all the substance of one of the later Carry On movies. It’s basically a so-so stage play filmed like an M&S Christmas advert. Some of the gags land, and others are wide of the mark, such as a joke involving a white beauty face mask.

“Why is C-3PO in my kitchen?” asks the heroine. Which would be funny, if it was a gold mask, or for people who have no knowledge of Star Wars.

And as we’re in Yorkshire, what could be funnier than a Cow Pat Bingo? Because who hasn’t played that at Christmas? No, me either. Not that it matters. It’s mildly amusing. If you’re 10. A shame this is a 12 certificate.

Comedy is such a tough nut to crack, so full marks to cast and crew for doing their best with the material. It’s no Love Actually, though obviously it tries to recapture some of that ensemble magic, and not just because Kris Marshall is among the cast.

There is an attempt to generate some emotion other than slapstick humour. And Grammer reminds us why he is still an A-list star even if he does land a few D-list projects.

His sparring with screen brother Cleese (who is handily called John) is terrific, and almost begs for a spin-off movie. Grammer’s Bruce Lee moves are also a hoot by the way.

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“A little sparkle”

A few skeletons come tumbling out of the closet in the third act, and naturally there’s a nativity to round things off, because all such ensemble comedies need one of those public event things. Those are the rules of seasonal comedies.

It’s not the worst festive comedy you’ll see this year, nor is it the best, though at 105 minutes it could have done with at least 10 minutes trimming.

Nathalie Cox is a genuine star, even when she attempts to pull off one of the goofiest dance routines of 2021. And while the script could have done with as much care and attention as the lavish decorations, if you down enough festive booze, or just go in with zero expectations, then this will add a little sparkle to one of the darkest times of the year. And I wouldn’t be too surprised if the alluded follow-up in the Bahamas sees the light of day at some point.

Brains in neutral, tipple in hand, settle back and enjoy.

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Father Christmas is Back is streaming now

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