4 years, 3 months ago
Unbelievably gorgeous homes are as much a Christmas movie staple as symmetrical tree decorations and plucky kids who manage to put a brave face on everything, up to and including, finding a lump of coal in their stocking. It’s the season of complete and utter fantasy. And if ever there was a time to accept that lowly publishing assistants can afford to live in English heritage villages and ‘ordinary’ US families can spring for a Christmas break in Paris as well as a mansion in Chicago’s most exclusive suburb, this is it. So cast aside your cynicism and come have a grand tour of classic Christmas locations we’ve known and loved over the years.
Whether you’re a 1947 purist or don’t mind schmaltz from any decade, ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ is a feel-good favourite focused almost entirely on swanky real estate. Okay, we know little Susan Walker charmed the good folks of New York into taking Santa seriously. But that’s a side issue compared to the palace she had on her Christmas wish list – whatever you’re being harassed for this year, count yourself lucky you aren’t related to sights-high Susie. Lucky little girl ended up living in Lake Forest, one of Chicago’s wealthiest suburbs, complete with picket fence, Labrador and picturesque new stepfather. We like to think she woke up on her 16th birthday crying, ‘why, oh why?’, on the realisation she’d swapped Manhattan for the sticks. And clearly she should’ve done a neighbourhood recce before the big move. Lake Forest homes have made an appearance in everything from ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ to ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’.
Poor Buddy, not only was he a force of destruction round Santa’s workshop, turns out he was adopted too – huge and clumsy should have been an early hint. In search of identity he pitches up in New York where it just so happens his birth dad is James Caan who has a penthouse overlooking Central Park – got to have helped with the abandonment issues. And it’s nice to know his dad’s neighbours would have taken candy-stripe tight-wearing Will Ferrell in their stride after their building’s lead in the original 1984 Ghostbusters.
The plot’s simple. Kate Winslet is dowdy and English, Cameron Diaz is glamorous and American. They swap homes for Christmas. Kate’s so blinded by LA’s magnificence she fails to notice Jack Black is Jack Black and falls in love with him. Meanwhile, Cammie spends most of the movie complaining about a delectable, flawlessly restored 18th century English cottage where Jude Law is accidentally sleeping on the sofa. So far, so ‘don’t make me watch it, I beg you’. But, if you can ignore Ms. Diaz swishing around like a luxe Grinch, feast your eyes on the Surrey village of Shere. This little delight couldn’t be more chocolate box if it moved to Belgium tomorrow and set up shop on Grand Sablon. And it definitely earns, otherwise dismal, ‘The Holiday’ a place on our Christmas watch list.
Anyone foolish enough to question how young Kevin ended up ‘Home Alone’, should take another run at the movie. The house was so vast, even a family faintly less disorganised than the McCallisters could have been forgiven for losing track of folk in its sprawling interior acres. In the real world this ‘ordinary’ home sits peacefully in Winnetka, another hugely affluent Chicago suburb and was quite recently on the market for $3.5 million – a small price to test the Christmas survival skills of your kids we say.
As far as polarising Christmas movies go, this is right up there with the best. You either think the English ditz brand is delightful and Christmas isn’t Christmas without a sneaky look or you confuse it with every other floppy-hair movie and say things like, ‘Is that the one with Julia Roberts?’ – it’s not. Wherever you stand, you’d have to admit Working Title are masterful at creating home-envy and ‘Love Actually’ views like an estate agent’s guide to London and the South of France. Making it a bit tough to sympathise with Colin Firth as he wanders round his sunny Aix-en-Provence villa in December pining for lost love and a traditional British Christmas – or maybe that was another Richard Curtis movie.
Finally, we wanted to mention ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ but (anyone who still believes in Santa should look away now) it was filmed on a studio lot in Birbank, California. Yes, Bedford Falls is entirely fictional. Which is only perfect really. Everyone’s favourite Christmas movie can’t ever be visited or bought or shared with ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’. It simply exists, untouched in imagination, just as it should be. Happy Christmas, wherever you’re home for the holidays this year.