Official: the nation’s favourite Christmas movie

Merry: Parts of It’s A Wonderful Life were inspired by A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens.

What makes the perfect Christmas movie? A classic film has won the Radio Times’s poll of Britain’s most popular festive movies — ahead of modern favourites Elf and Love Actually.

It was released in 72 years ago, shot in black and white, and initially bombed at the box office. Nevertheless, It’s A Wonderful Life is officially the country’s favourite Christmas film.

“It turns out there’s no sell-by date on Christmas spirit,” said the Radio Times’s Tim Glanfield, “and a film that encapsulates it will stay with us for generations.”

But what is the film about, and why does it have such enduring appeal?

It tells the story of George Bailey, a generous but small-time businessman who’s big ambitions have been thwarted: both by his instinct to put others first and a particularly ruthless rival.

When calamity strikes one Christmas Eve, he cracks. Stumbling onto a bridge, he is determined to throw himself off and commit suicide. However, prayers from his family reach heaven, and a guardian angel (named Clarence) descends to rescue him.

The angel shows him what the world would have been like if he had never been born. Slowly George learns a profound lesson: he may not have wealth, but his time on Earth has transformed the lives of those around him for the better.

While it does deliver a happy ending, its depiction of a man struggling with the pressures of daily life hits home too. This year, lines from the film’s script have been painted onto train platforms across the UK — raising awareness of mental illness.

What makes the perfect Christmas movie?

Heart-warming

It is about nostalgia and tradition, some argue. Just like a Christmas turkey dinner, classic movies are a comforting ritual that we rely on to bring us joy.

Not necessarily, others respond. The best Christmas films stay relevant. It’s A Wonderful Life is a heart-warming Christmas tale, but it also depicts the toll that the daily grind can take on mental health — something many still identify with.

You Decide

  1. What is your favourite Christmas film?

Activities

  1. In 30 seconds, write down all the words that you associate with Christmas. Share your ideas with the class. Are most of your ideas positive or negative? Why might Christmas be a difficult time of year for some people?

Some People Say...

“No man is a failure who has friends.”

Clarence (the guardian angel)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Despite its feel-good credentials, the film was subject to conspiracy theories when it was first made — some accusing it of spreading communist ideas.
What do we not know?
How tastes will change in the future. For example, The 2013 edition of the same survey ranked Richard Curtis’s 2003 Love Actually in second place — it has subsequently fallen to fourth.

Word Watch

Bombed
The film ended up making a loss of $525,000.
Radio Times
According to a survey of more than 7,000 people conducted by RadioTimes.com.
Rival
Henry F. Potter. In the film, he wants to destroy George’s business.
Angel
The film is based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern. He, in turn, got the inspiration for the guardian angel character from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.
Platforms
“At Christmas time, in particular, we wanted to ensure people know that help is available if they need it,” said organiser Colin Leslie.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.