This is one of my favorite periods of the year, made all the better by watching holiday-themed movies with my family. It doesn’t matter if the movie is more aligned with actual reality, or it’s swimming in fantasy; it can be animated, claymation, or live-action. If it’s based on Christmas, I’m in. The wonder and the emotion always get me. I mean, I even got teary-eyed watching 8-Bit Christmas. But nothing prepared me for the Netflix original film A Boy Called Christmas.
Directed by Gil Kenan, starring Maggie Smith as Aunt Rose, Joel Fry as Matt, Stephen Merchant as Miika, Kristen Wiig as Aunt Carlotta, and a larger selection of recognizable mainly English actors. The film introduces Henry Lawfull as Nikolas in his first significant role, as the boy travels into the northern lands in search of his missing father.
Before we reach the point, however, some necessary backstory, Andrea, Moppet, and Patrick are three ordinary children in need of a babysitter when their father is called out to work for an urgent task. Having recently lost their mother, the family are far too grief-stricken to celebrate Christmas. Enter Aunt Rose, played by Smith, who proceeds to weave them a fantastical bedtime story about a little boy named Nikolas, whose village is in desperate need of finding some hope to inspire their people. Nikolas must travel to the farthest reaches of the kingdom in search of magic, but along the way, he finds something far more powerful.
As I mentioned, I wasn’t prepared for this film. It made me openly bawl, and on more than one occasion. It is a powerfully emotional film. The story takes such care to develop the layers needed to extract that level of impact to deliver the message. It is underpinned from the lens of how we, the audience, view Nikolas’ story, and that is from the perspective of the children as they listen to the story being told to them by Aunt Rose.
Maggie Smith is such a wonderful actress, and her performance in this film is nothing short of brilliant. Her narrative tone sells the overall story as she recites it to the children. I was immediately reminded of how effective this storytelling device can be if done right, like in The Princess Bride. A Boy Called Christmas even relies on the same beats where the children will brashly interrupt the story to call foul on where the story is headed or to express worry about what’s happening to the characters.
Stephen Merchant’s performance was particularly hilarious, and his dialogue and delivery are just a joy. His witty timing and sarcastic undertone help elevate the film and add a balance to stories tone.
Where the Netflix film excels, though, is that underpinning of these three children in grief and in need of some hope of their own. So when it’s delivered, and it’s a Christmas story so you know there’s a happy ending, oh boy, it lands so well.
Beyond that, the fantasy story itself is such a lovely tale, and essentially it is a modern reimagining of Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town but with a better vision of the origin with different elements employed.
Visually the film looks to have been well supported, as the graphics sing on screen with a lot of highly entertaining action and effects. The performances were so enjoyable, and Lawfull was quite delightful in his first significant role. However, he did encounter some obstacles in selling the emotionally heavy scenes later in the film.
Overall, A Boy Called Christmas was a surprising hit for me, and I urge you and your families to put this film at the top of your must-watch list. Maggie Smith delivers a master class in storytelling, and the fantasy story is a much-needed retelling of a classic origin of a mythical holiday being. A highly entertaining and beautifully moving story about hope.
A Boy Called Christmas is available now exclusively on Netflix.
A Boy Called Christmas
- Rating - 8.5/108.5/10
Overall, A Boy Called Christmas was a surprising hit for me, and I urge you and your families to put this film at the top of your must-watch list. Maggie Smith delivers a master class in storytelling, and the fantasy story is a much-needed retelling of a classic origin of a mythical holiday being.
Aaron is a contributing writer at But Why Tho, serving as a reviewer for TV and Film. He is also the co-host and social media manager of the Nerds Social Club podcast.
Hailing originally from England, and after some lengthy questing, he’s currently set up shop in Pennsylvania. He spends his days reading comics, podcasting, and being attacked by his small offspring.