When there are so many largely forgettable Christmas movies dropping this time of the year – almost all of them romances – how does one stand above the parapet?
Casting Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds is one way to do it, as in the case of Spirited, or being Lindsay Lohan’s comeback vehicle (Falling for Christmas – it’s terrible).
But what if you can’t compete on that level of starry, glitziness – and you’re British?
You cast two very likeable young actors who will undoubtedly charm and thaw the iciest of hearts – not through saccharine heat but with their awkwardness and verve.
Asa Butterfield (Sex Education) and relative newcomer Cora Kirk crackle as two young university students on Christmas break. They’re fun and vivacious, the kind of performances that makes you want to invest in their characters’ stories – even if the plot itself is prosaic.
James (Butterfield) and Hayley (Kirk) are enthralled in the flush of a new relationship. The two drama school students have been dating only a few months but want to spend every moment together.
Which makes going their separate ways home for Christmas a little tough – until they both have the same idea of a grand romantic gesture. James and Hayley decide to skip their trains and surprise each other at their paramour’s home.
So, Hayley is off to James’ house in Gloucester while James is on his way to Hayley’s in Macclesfield. Of course, neither of them knows the other’s plans, and it’s not exactly the Christmas surprise they were hoping for.
Inadvertently swapping families for Christmas, James and Hayley discover much more about each other than they knew – James is heir to an earldom and Hayley has a fiance (or does she?).
And their families couldn’t be more different with one a warm, bustling hub of activity and hijinks while the other is a cold, imperious environment without even a single bauble.
Your Christmas or Mine is in many ways a typical comedy of errors with a festive bent, but the casting throughout the whole ensemble is dead on and even if the supporting characters are familiar tropes, they’re appealing ones.
On the one side, you have Alex Jennings (The Crown) as James’ pompous aristocratic father, tended to by Harriet Walter’s housekeeper and feuding with David Bradley’s gun-toting neighbour.
And then at Hayley’s house, it’s chaos with Daniel Mays, Angela Griffin, Ram John Holder and Natalie Gumede talking over each other, but with love.
Your Christmas or Mine may not be much in terms of doing anything particularly new or fresh in a well-worn genre, but it creates vivid worlds.
More importantly, Butterfield and Kirk bring to life two characters you want to root for, and they establish enough chemistry in the brief opening scene that you care to see the young lovers make it through the holidays.
Director Jim O’Hanlon is an experienced helmer in TV and it’s clear his work on the likes of British relationship comedies Trying and Catastrophe carried through to Your Christmas or Mine, where he pitches the tone and vibe just right for a jovial festive time.
Your Christmas or Mine is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video