The forced marriage of hysteria, sentiment and flammable fabrics (you may know it as ‘Christmas’) hasn’t changed all that much over the years, as our selection from the archives shows …
Get into the festive mood with this trove of films from the last 100 years, available to watch for free on BFI Player in our new Christmas Crackers collection.
Christmas at East Grinstead (1972-8)
This vibrant Surrey home movie sees mum and daughters unwrapping their presents. Extra point for dad’s comedy gift to the wife, prior to the real one, which then rebounds when his turn arrives. In the second part, shot six years later, his next gift (a self-assembly compost bin) looks positively lavish.
Drink Drive Office Party Cartoon (1964)
An official message on the perils of drink driving, from a time when the law was surprisingly lax on the subject. Veteran information film animators Halas & Bachelor knocked up this entertaining and inventive cautionary tale, though as for shaming the guilty party … well, see for yourself.
Magician’s Wife Makes the Christmas Cake (1949)
Peacetime shook Britain up, gifting one housewife special powers. In this fun amateur short, a festive disaster is averted with the help of some Fantasia-style sorcery. Beat that, Nigella.
Family Christmas Home Movie (1948)
The previous year, austerity was paused for a night when this home movie recorded a huge family gathering. Tea and trifle were eclipsed by the arrival of Santa who, in a slightly disturbing mask, may have traumatised some of the youngsters. It was shot in 1948, the same year the country was given a collective present: the National Health Service.
Keep Them Safe, Keep Them Happy (1941)
Of course it’s also a time for generosity of spirit. Keep Them Safe, Keep Them Happy was essentially a wartime whip-round, urging donations for child evacuees. It is brief, simple and powerful, reciting an address (“Mrs Lowe, The County Hall, London SE1”) and urging a nation robbed of luxury to dig deep.
Christmas at the Front (1914)
In 2014, the trenches were used in a TV advert. A century earlier, here’s the real thing. This newsreel footage of Allied troops (probably Belgian) resting from conflict was succour to British audiences seeking positivity from a war which was supposed to “all be over by Christmas”.
Unwrap all the films in BFI Player’s Christmas Crackers collection.