A Christmas Number One
17 Dec 2021
Keiron Self, Robert Chandler, Giles New
Iwan Rheon, Freida Pinto, Helena Zengel, Alfie Boe
What does every Christmas film need? Cancer.
No need to check notes, this latest Sky Original movie about a plucky songwriter (Iwan Rheon) sees him trying to write a festive hit in order to bring a bit of joy to his even pluckier niece (Helena Zengel) who has been given a terminal diagnosis. Feeling festive yet?
Fortunately, the bond between the two characters is expertly played by the two performers, creating a solid, emotional foundation for Chris Cottam’s direction to build from.
The rest of the elements draw parallels to a slew of Christmas movies (imagine if the Bill Nighy character in Love, Actually was actually a thirty-something hard-rocker-with-a-heart and you are going in the right direction) and the film follows a familiar journey of never trusting anyone in the music industry, even at Christmas. A sugary romance plot with Freida Pinto contains all the unexpected twists and turns of a candy cane, leaving some room for her dealings with the entourage of heightened schmucks which make up the surrounding characters.
None of this should work and I think the filmmakers know that. The polarising inclusion of heavy metal and Christmas songs gets no marks for originality (Rage Against the Machine were Christmas number one over a decade ago) but will certainly surprise a few viewers who click the festive film from their Sky Cinema listings and realise they have to endure the performances of a fake band called Skurve. The blend of optimism and cynicism is completely believable for a season that does divide opinion but makes for an awkward viewing experience teeming with cliches.
The swearing and distortion mean A Christmas Number One fails to land in the family feel-good zone of Nativity and this isn’t bucking the trend the way Bad Santa did. It sits somewhere in the middle and is likely to get forgotten and discarded like so many Christmas presents because of it.
So why four stars?
It’s that central relationship between uncle and niece that makes this worth swapping out Elf for a different festive film this year. Rheon is perfectly grounded and bursting with emotional distress throughout his performance and Zengel brings so much charm it would take at least ten Hugh Grants to pin her down (that creates a rather disturbing image, doesn’t it?).
This won’t be your Christmas number one film, it probably won’t break your top 20, but there is a fulfilling storyline here that may connect with some and will at least break the monotony of Netflix originals with Princess in the title. Skurve 4 Eva.