We’re so inspired by the community organisations we partner with, who this year have included the brilliant organisations below. The work they do and the values they represent are amazing all year round, of course. But at Christmas they have a special relevance.
Inspired by our partners, I’ve picked some of my personal favourite films which capture the spirit of what these organisations do – and reflect the real reason for the season.
You won’t find any tinsel or sleigh-bells here: these are films with an evergreen message.
This year our partners have included:
Christmas is about…connecting across generations
For many people, Christmas means the coming together of extended families. In a country where 1.4m older people are so lonely that Christmas passes them by, though, it’s clear that we need to reimagine what it means to connect across generations – not just in our immediate families, but throughout our communities.
One of my favourite films about cross-generational friendship is Philomena, in which disgraced journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) reluctantly agrees to write a ‘human interest story’ about Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an elderly Irishwoman searching for the son who was taken away from her in a convent years ago. The film mines comedy from their chalk-and-cheese partnership as they embark on a road trip to America, but as the search progresses their connection becomes increasingly poignant.
Martin grows protective over Philomena’s frailties, but also comes to admire her strengths: the grace and resilience she’s shown in the face of hardship. His anger on behalf Philomena enables her to pursue justice for the first time, and ultimately, to find peace. It’s a story about advocacy, but also about a genuine friendship born out of mutual understanding and appreciation.
One of this year’s nicest cinematic surprises was The Big Sick. When his new girlfriend Emily (Zoe Kazan) falls into a mysterious coma, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) finds himself spending a lot of time with her mum and dad (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) as they wait together for news. Across religious, cultural and age divides, a connection begins to develop. It becomes clear that the film’s real love story is not boy-meets-girl, but boy-meets-girl’s-parents.
In an individualistic age, The Big Sick makes a gently radical suggestion: that even something as deeply personal as our romantic lives should be connected with those who live alongside us, and those who came before us.
Christmas is about… families of every kind
Lion is a film of two halves – a story about one boy with two lives. In the first act this boy, Saroo (Sunny Pawar) loses his family in India through a tragic accidental separation. After a heart-stopping sojourn on the streets and in an orphanage, he is adopted by Sue Brierely (Nicole Kidman) and brought to Australia.
In the second act, the adult Saroo (Dev Patel) is haunted by memories of the mother and siblings he lost. With only the slimmest scraps of recollection to fall back on, he sets about tracking down his origins through the magic of the internet.
The idea that ‘Christmas is a time for family’ can be a source of grief or anxiety for many people who, like Saroo, have a complicated relationship with their own sense of belonging. The extraordinary true story told by Lion reminds us that family and familial love take many forms – sometimes all the more powerful for being unconventional.
Another adoptee who’s found his way to cinema screens recently is Paddington, the marmalade-loving bear (Ben Wishaw), who finds a home with a human family, the Browns, when he arrives in London from Peru. After a bumpy beginning, Paddington becomes an indelible part not only of the Brown household but of the whole neighbourhood, making friends wherever he turns. In the film’s generous, inclusive vision, the whole of London is one big diverse family where anyone can belong. It’s enough to charm children of all ages – and to make adults ache for a world where this picture becomes a reality.
Christmas is about… reaching those in need
Our world is exhaustingly full of need, and in an age of never-ending information, we’re more aware of it than ever. Some of it might seem distant, beyond our ability to help. And some of it, particularly in a season of outward cheerfulness and celebration, can feel painfully close to home.
Low-key French drama Two Days, One Night revolves around the most ordinary kinds of need. Factory worker Sandra (Marion Cotillard) has suffered a nervous breakdown – and in her absence, her colleagues are offered a bonus if they vote to make her redundant. Over the course of two days and one night leading up to the vote, Sandra pays each person a visit, trying to persuade them to take her side.
The outcome of every encounter is surprising, moving and revealing. In the midst of her depression Sandra is met with compassion. But she also finds a world of other people’s needs which are in tension with her own. This humane film suggests that healing begins when we see ourselves as part of a communal whole: that we are changed by reaching out to others, and letting them reach us in return.
Christmas is about… hope for a better world
We don’t often go to Sci-Fi films for optimism. This year alone we’ve had the dystopian visions of Blade Runner 2049, Ghost in the Shell and Alien: Covenant to make us feel depressed about the future. But Arrival, the haunting tale of a linguist (Amy Adams) trying to establish contact with an alien species, comes with an unexpected twist – hope.
Hope that empathy and understanding can trump suspicion and hate. Hope that each of us has the power to bring change. Hope that the universe might not actually be out to get us. It doesn’t get much more Christmassy than that.
A kid-friendly version of the same message can be found in the delightful Zootopia (or Zootropolis if you’re American), which finds bunny cop Judy Hops (Ginnifer Goodwin) fighting crime and disillusionment in the big city. Her sunny outlook is tested when she’s forced to team up with cynical fox Nick (Jason Bateman) – but of course, there’s more to him than meets the eye.
This animated parable offers a sharp take on some hot-button issues, as its villain aims to create a climate of fear through preying on the prejudices of a populace. Sound familiar?
Of course, Judy’s optimism wins the day – though not before her friendship with Nick prompts her to re-examine some of her own attitudes. In Zootopia, a better world is built one bunny at a time.
Christmas is about… faith in the midst of darkness
If you haven’t yet discovered the exquisite films of Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon, then wait no longer. Their first feature, The Secret of Kells, makes for perfect Christmas family viewing if you’re on the lookout for something of real beauty and substance. Young apprentice monk Brendan (Evan McGuire) becomes involved in creating the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript which will ‘turn darkness into light’ for the people of medieval Ireland, while his stern uncle Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson) obsesses about building a protective wall around the monastery.
Steeped in myth and folklore, the film carries a timely message for people of faith today. Will we preserve what’s ‘ours’, protect our own, and police our ideological borders in the midst of dark times? Or will take on the risks and costs that come with sharing our faith, light and freedom with others?
Sophie Lister is the editor of the Damaris Media blog