Shiny Shelf

SHINY ADVENT: It’s A Wonderful Life

By Mark Clapham on 03 December 2006

It’s hard to forget during the commercial onslaught through autumn and winter, but Christmas isn’t just about presents, booze and food.

No, Christmas is also about rising suicide rates. This is Christmas, after all, one of the few times of the year when everyone steps away from work and day to day life, and has the chance to look at their family, friends and life in general, all against the background of the darkest point of winter.

No wonder some people don’t like what they see.

What makes Frank Capra’s ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ the best Christmas movie ever is that, where other seasonal movies go straight for the heart-warming family moments around the tree, ‘Wonderful Life’ earns its happy ending by taking the audience through the darkness of self doubt and despair first.

We see George Bailey’s entire life, his hopes, disappointments and victories, and how they take him to the point of suicide. Capra’s film, anchored by James Stewart as Bailey, feels like it takes us through an entire lifetime, then shows us how the lives of its supporting characters would have got on without George’s influence. The film’s simple message, that a good person will always make a difference whether they realise it or not, is hard earned.

60 years old, ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ still feels like more of an epic than movies with far more spectacular vistas and far larger casts. While some details, such as the presumption that unmarried women will become sad and repressed without a husbands influence, are a bit off-key for modern viewers, ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ remains the definitive Christmas movie.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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