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KS4 Film Studies: Black Christmas (1977)

Compare and contrast extracts from two TV plays about Christmas day

Main image of KS4 Film Studies: Black Christmas (1977)
AuthorGemma Starkey
Topic Film Language - Narrative
Curriculum linksGCSE Film Studies: Textual Analysis

A comparison of two television dramas centred around the theme of Christmas. Black Christmas depicts the familial tensions of a West Indian family, while a dysfunctional middle class family gather together to celebrate in Seasons Greetings. Watch the fireworks!

These extracts offer teachers a seasonal starting point into exploring genre and narrative. Students are asked to compare and contrast two extracts which might initially appear quite similar. This starter encourages students to analyse the macro and micro elements of film language in order to understand how filmmakers convey broader themes and ideas.



Begin by showing students the extract 'What a Christmas' from Black Christmas. It's not necessary to provide any contextual explanation at this stage. Directly follow this with the extract 'Serving Dinner' from Seasons Greetings.

Ask students to jot down similarities between the two clips - they could focus on elements like narrative, setting, sound, cast/characters, props and lighting.

After capturing some of their observations in a class discussion, ask students to think about the differences between both clips - they should consider race, class and representation, as well as action, sound, language and tone. For example, Black Christmas shows the family seated around the dining table telling jokes, discussing politics and religion, while in Seasons Greetings the family are glued to the TV set in another room, avoiding the inevitable confrontations sitting down to Christmas dinner will bring.

Now, encourage students to think about two broader questions:

  • Why is Christmas such a powerful theme for drama?
  • What broader themes do they think the plays are addressing?

It might be helpful to show the clip Mother and Daughter from Black Christmas to help crystalise their thoughts on the play.

There are lots of avenues to explore here, but context is perhaps one of the most valuable.

Similar to the sitcom, The Fosters, made at the same time, Michael Abbensett's drama Black Christmas (1977) was notable for its sensitive portrayal of a West Indian family. However uncommon it was to represent a racial minority on television at this time, the play's subject matter was in no way unusual. Indeed, the opportunity for drama afforded by familial get-togethers is a useful and effective device for exploring relationships, emotions, tensions and beliefs.

Although both plays skilfully confront these high emotions created by Christmas, they are also both about wrestling for its spirit. Through all the arguments, the constant blare from the television, and the general disillusionment, there's a palpable sense that the families depicted are attempting to preserve their own traditions and identity.


Some more ideas

The significance of food in both extracts is also worth discussing. What does food symbolise in these clips? How does this link into the plays' broader themes?

Video Clips
2. Serving dinner (3:38)
3. 'What a Christmas!' (3:21)

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Black Christmas (1977)Black Christmas (1977)

Read more about this programme

Thumbnail image of Fosters, The (1976-77)Fosters, The (1976-77)

Read more about this programme

Thumbnail image of Season's Greetings (1986)Season's Greetings (1986)

Read more about this programme

See also