In the same way that millions eagerly await the tension of the Doctor Who Christmas Special, expecting to be thrilled rather than cheered, the crowds have flocked to the box offices to see Joe Wright’s latest epic. Although the roaring success of Atonement is evidently hard to follow, this tale of Christmas and tragedy is told in the same, many-layered lyrical way, and has all of its confusing, shattered allure.
“I love you, I miss you, Merry Christmas… and then the letters stopped”
A wartime tale of Christmas 1914, Silent Night is told through the eyes of an observer – Becky (Anna Popplewell, Chronicles of Narnia) a modern-day teenager who found a tin full of wartime letters in the loft of her family home. They tell one side of a beautiful romance painfully, and she is left to fill in the gaps.
After a while, Wright’s famous lyricism means that you forget where the real story ends, and Becky’s imagined story begins; they blend seamlessly together, with tales of the trenches, loneliness, loss, and that famous Christmas football match mingling with the dreams of a modern teenager, brought up on romance novels, romantic comedies, and happily-ever-afters.
But, as Becky admits herself, the elegant tale of Eva (Katie McGrath, Channel 4’s The Queen) and Nicholas (Harry Lloyd, Doctor Who) was never going to end in happily-ever-after.
The most compelling thing about Silent Night is the way in which the audience is left guessing. We never know how it ends. We can but guess: the film’s subtitle, ‘Sometimes, every day’s a tragedy’ guides us – as does its theme song, a darker rerecording of the bluegrass hit ‘Christmases When You Were Mine’. But, in the true spirit of Christmas, we are allowed to come to our own conclusions. Maybe Silent Night does end happily. Maybe the letters were put into another box from then on in. Maybe that’s where the sequel comes in. I doubt it – but it’s Christmas. I can hope.
The cinematography is, in Wright’s style, of course perfect; as is the screenplay, by newcomer Alice Littière. Although one has to question some of the casting decisions – Bill Nighy as Uncle Derek is surely a little too Love Actually to be truly tragic – the over-all beauty of the production, and the performances of McGrath and Lloyd do more than enough to make you forget.
It’s not traditional; it’s not cheerful, frivolous or festive, but Silent Night certainly captures the heart, and, in this reviewer’s opinion, is destined to become a Christmas classic – albeit a Christmas tearjerker.
By Amy Claire Thompson
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