An unjustly underseen (at least in the United States) little gem, The Holly and the Ivy is a wonderful alternative to Christmas fare that has grown a bit too familiar. While some may feel that Holly's careful and precise structure reveals a bit too clearly its stage origins, it's a small flaw in an otherwise captivating and totally engaging film. Mixing drama, comedy and some unabashed sentiment, yet still maintaining an undertone of slight bitterness, Holly beautifully captures a moment in time for a small town British family the members of which love each other very much but don't know how to be upfront and honest with each other. There's poignancy and humor, love and resentment, courage and cowardice all through the film, but it all comes to a sweet and charming conclusion that reinforces the "familial" tradition of the Christmas holidays. George More O'Ferrall's direction could perhaps have been a tad more cinematic, but his deft handling of his wonderful cast and his ability to highlight a range of emotional attitudes more than makes up for this. As the vicar, Ralph Richardson is simply aces, turning in a magnificently modulate and affecting performance. Celia Johnson is achingly tender and self-sacrificing, and a young Denholm Elliott a delight. As the wayward daughter, Margaret Leighton is splendid, but Margaret Halstan and Maureen Delaney steal their scenes with ease.
by Craig Butler review