Last Christmas (1999)

running time: 80 minutes
Tiger Aspect for BBC Television

Transmission: Wednesday 22 December 1999, BBC1 9.30-10.50pm

Phillip Dowling & Ray Winstone in 'Last Christmas'
Phillip Dowling as Frank and Ray Winstone as Neville

Behind the scenes according to The Radio Times:

Choosing Ray Winstone to play an angel seems an eccentric bit of casting. Famed for his tough-guy roles, in this one-off fantasy drama he plays a dad who returns from the dead to explain the world to his grieving nine-year-old son.

For Winstone, shooting Last Christmas meant a lot of time suspended from wires: "Flying was fun, especially with the little one [newcomer Phillip Dowling]. It's difficult enough walking and talking at the same time, but flying and talking? You're in the lap of the gods really".

Last Christmas was written by Winstone's old friend Tony Grounds [see article]. He was delighted by Winstone's transformation: "To have Ray, who has an earthy baggage, and make him into this angel was just a fantastic opportunity".

Last Christmas (1999)

written by Tony Grounds (Our Boy, Births, Marriages and Deaths)
directed by Adrian Shergold
produced by David Snodin

Since the death of his father Neville the previous Christmas, young Frank is convinced that his dad is watching him from a cloud above London. The boy is delighted when Neville turns up as a trainee angel, and the two embark on an adventurous journey into the past.

"When you die on Christmas Eve, leaving behind a wife and a very upset and confused young son, you're almost honour-bound to come back and sort things out. This is what happens to window cleaner Neville (Ray Winstone). It's a year since his untimely death after falling from a ladder, and he's worried about his nine-year-old's ability to cope. So back he pops as an angel with, initially at least, only the best of intentions." [From Radio Times]

This drama reunites Winstone with Pauline Quirke as husband and wife (they previously starred together in Our Boy).

My (rather 'Bah Humbug') review:

This was a strange drama. I began by not liking it as it seemed very simplistic and rather cloying - a little boy misses his father and keeps on talking about him and day-dreaming about him until one day his dream comes true and his father appears as a trainee angel in a shellsuit. Cue lots of cute special effects as Dad hovers about the room making comments while Mum can't see him. This felt to me like rather twee Christmas wish-fulfilment.

Then it got more interesting: all was not what it seemed. What was Dad talking about, turning his son against his mother? Saying she murdered him? The waters got muddier. Like Scrooge and his Ghosts, Dad and little Frank visit past times in their lives. These flashbacks showed that there were no heroes in this story, that Dad had not been a perfect father, nor Mum a perfect wife and mother. But that there was no murder involved...

And then it all got rather ridiculous again. Father Christmas appeared, fulfilling the role of God, all seeing, telling Dad what he must do to earn his wings. Improbably, the little lad jumped off Tower Bridge into the Thames and survived. For awkward dramatic reasons Bobby Moore replaced his Dad as his guide through the spirit world. The whole piece climaxed with Frank in a hospital bed and his Mum giving a breathless and cliched speech about how much he means to her.

Dad learnt to let go and earns his wings. And then finally his unburied ashes were lifted from the grass of West Ham football pitch in a flag supported by balloons and scattered to the winds. I think I was supposed to shed a tear at this point. Ugh. - Alys

Frank Phillip Dowling
Gwen (Mum) Pauline Quirke
Neville (Dad) Ray Winstone
Geoff Phil Daniels
Judy Ella Daniels
Father Christmas Mark Benton
Bobby Moore Matt Bardock
Doctor Ahsen Bhatti
Donna Donna Ewin
Tessa Suzanne Burden
Mourner Tony Grounds

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