Last night my wife and I saw, for the first time, A Child's Christmas in Wales (1987), a 55-minute, made-for-TV adaptation of Dylan Thomas's eponymous short story. A Child's Christmas now tops my very short list of great Christmas movies.
Thomas's poetic language is spoken beautifully by Denholm Elliott. Elliott plays a grandfather who, on a Christmas eve in the present, is telling his grandson about Christmases past. The filmmakers set the past in the first decade of the 1900s -- a bit before Thomas's time (he was born in 1914), but more appropriate to the film's sense of innocence and joyousness than would have been a post-World War I setting.
A Child's Christmas is richer in humor than other great Christmas movies, but there is no doubt about its ability to tug at the heartstrings. The soft, sweet ending leaves a lump in the throat. In spite of the Welsh accents, which are toned down, the movie would be a treat for children of, say, ages eight to twelve because so many scenes are played for laughs. But it would be enjoyed only by those children (and adults) who read to learn, who appreciate gifted writing, and who disdain the raucousness, vulgarity, viciousness, and anomie that seems to pervade today's music, movies, TV, and video games.
Other great Christmas movies, in descending order of preference:
A Christmas Carol (1938, the warmest and brightest of the many versions -- and not, praise be, a musical version)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
It's a Wonderful Life (1946, the darkness becomes bright)