Documentarian Ken Wardrop interviews several people as Christmas approaches, each of them facing into the festive season in a new way. One is a single mother facing financial hardship, another is a widower with young sons facing his first Christmas alone, while others deal with loneliness and isolation...
It's easy to be dismissive, or at the very least, cynical about Christmas. Ken Wardrop's latest documentary, 'So This Is Christmas', has the same tenderness and empathy he's demonstrated previously in 'Making The Grade', 'His & Hers', and 'Mom and Me', but with a festive perspective. For many people, Christmas is supposed to be the time of year when we're embraced by friends and families, we're eating our weight in chocolate and turkey, and we're enjoying endless distractions from presents and toys. But what of those who have less than any of this?
The documentary follows five different people as Christmas approaches, each of them facing into it without a fundamental piece of what we all think makes Christmas. There's a tenderness to how Wardrop interviews them - they are all relaxed, giving fully of themselves, and while they may sometimes seem guarded or choosing their worlds carefully, there is an intense and aching vulnerability to it all that's impossible to ignore. The camera catches private, tender moments with ease. One moment that sticks out is a widowed father of two young boys talking about how he's going to decorate the house exactly like their mother would have wanted. We learn that she passed that February. Another woman talks about dealing with Christmas as someone who suffers from an eating disorder, yet masks this in public when asked about plans for Christmas.
'So This Is Christmas' could easily choke on these maudlin moments, but there's a warm humanity underneath it that keeps the whole thing moving. The cutaways to tinsel and lights, together with an odd non-sequitur where a group of Santas talk about their trade, all soften these moments with cheer and irreverence. The cinematography, captured in 35mm film, gives a sense of scale and grandeur to the frosted countryside while the choral music plays softly over it. In the end, 'So This Is Christmas' isn't so much a reminder to be grateful for what we have, but rather a call for understanding and generosity of spirit to those around us.