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Season's Greetings (1986)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Season's Greetings (1986)
BBC2, tx. 24/12/1986
110 min, colour
DirectorMichael Simpson
ScriptAlan Ayckbourn
ProducerShaun Sutton

Cast: Nicky Henson (Neville); Anna Massey (Rachel); Geoffrey Palmer (Bernard); Peter Vaughan (Harvey); Brigid Turner (Phyllis); Barbara Flynn (Belinda); Shaun Scott (Clive); Lesley Dunlop (Pattie); Michael Cashman (Eddie)

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Christmas Eve 1986, South-East England. A well-off extended family gather for Christmas. But things don't quite go as smoothly as planned.

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Plays like Just Another Saturday (BBC, tx. 7/11/1975) used comparatively unknown actors who were hard to distinguish from the local people featured. This, along with the many outdoor shots, natural-looking light and colour and absence of obvious studio work, contributed to an appearance of 'real life'.

Conversely, Season's Greetings (BBC, tx. 24/12/1986), written by Alan Ayckbourn, used well known sitcom actors with whom we felt safe. It had gone back to the studio: one evenly-lit set; little sense of night or day. In this way we are lulled into a false sense of security, and the unfolding emotional outbursts are that much more horrifying against the bland, almost minimalist background of the house.

Season's Greetings skilfully deals, in an often comic way, with all kinds of prejudices: class, wealth, artistic snobbery, male chauvinism, ageism, homophobia. The characters are emotionally 'coloured-in': Rachel, sensible in the extreme, endlessly over-analysing her emotions, yet occasionally hysterical; Eddie, attempting, but giving up, tenderness with Patti. As a guest, Clive endlessly suffers the mad family. The play's slow, imperceptible build in drunkenness and madness is impressive.

The play shares much with Mike Leigh's 'Abigail's Party' (BBC, 1977), particularly its mix of the humorous and the awful. Like 'Abigail's Party' you never see the children.

Is Season's Greetings 'just' comic, or more serious? Like Eddie, we believe, perhaps because we want to, that Neville has offered him the managership of his new branch - this turns out not to be the case. Time after time we find ourselves involved in the drama, taking it very seriously, only for the scene to end with a wicked comic punch line. Phyllis crying with pity for Bernard is very moving, while Bernard's blistering attack on Harvey - "all that they can really say about you is that you're a snob, a bigot, a racist, a chauvinist..." - almost deserves applause. But in a moment of high farce at the end the G.P., Bernard, a man riven with lack of self-worth, solemnly examines the shot Clive, pronouncing him dead. Clive promptly wakes up.

The dysfunctional family can cope with anything. When Neville takes the gun from Harvey, he is asked if Clive will be alright. "Oh yeah," he replies, "he'll be alright; he's got Rachel" - Rachel being the one sensible member of the family. Examining an electronic toy that one of the bullets has passed through he says, "It's alright, it missed the motor".

Ewan Davidson

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Video Clips
1. Preparing the tree (4:15)
2. Serving dinner (3:38)
3. Harvey (6:22)
Black Christmas (1977)
Massey, Anna (1937-2011)
Palmer, Geoffrey (1927-)
Sutton, Shaun (1919-2004)
Vaughan, Peter (1923-)
The Television Play