Emilia Clarke, the mother of dragons herself, plays a down-on-her luck London girl named Kate Andrich. It is Christmas in 2017 and Brexit is dividing the nation. Kate works full-time at a year-round Christmas shop under sharp-eyed dragon lady Michelle Yeoh. She has Fleabag-level dysfunctional family issues—particularly with her mother (Emma Thompson, who also wrote the screenplay), who still behaves as if the war they fled in Yugoslavia has followed them to England. She’s such a hot mess with all the terrible eating and the drinking and the hooking up with random strangers, she just can’t get her life together, and she can’t land an audition even though singing professionally is the thing she most wants to do. By chance one day, she meets a way-too-understanding manic pixie dream boy named Tom Webster (Henry Golding) and begins to form an attachment to him, and that’s kind of where the downward arc of her character starts to swerve.
It is very important to say upfront that the marketing has let this film down: watching the trailer, you’d be forgiven for expecting a romcom dressed up in tinsel and George Michael tunes. It is NOT that (and a part of me wonders if unhelpful expectations led this film to score only 46 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes). It’s more of a journey of a young woman trying to turn her life around and deal with her baggage, and while Tom plays a role in that, the story isn’t about him or even them; it’s about her. Her growth comes about over scenes and days and weeks and things that feel a little repetitious and slow at times, but the overall effect is akin to a novel where small things are changing and a character is growing, just not all at once.
My movie buddy Fiona picked the twist well before it happened—perhaps because she was paying far more attention to the clues than I was (the film’s title is a big one), but also perhaps because she knows more George Michael than I do. (Also, I was still expecting a romcom. Nope!) I was still surprised by it, and while I’m still tossing up whether it was satisfying, there were things about the ending I liked and things that I kind of wished had been better. Overall, I liked where the movie left Kate and the audience. But I think I understand why its reviews have been bad.
Other things I liked: the leads were all engaging: Emilia Clarke made me feel for Kate; Emma Thompson was fantastic as her overbearing over-anxious mother; and if Henry Golding was a little too cardboard and a little too good to be true, well, there was sort of a reason for that. I agree that Michelle Yeoh was under-utilised, though her little character arc was weirdly charming and I liked the interactions between her and Kate. I also liked how many of the minor characters had something to do, and they milked whatever screen time they were given. And I liked that the movie was grounded in a particular time and place—with themes regarding immigration, homelessness and the general anxiety of the British people underscoring everything.
I don’t think this will be a film for everyone. If you’re expecting a Love Actually/Serendipity/The Holiday Christmas romcom, you’ll end up disappointed. If you meet the story on its own terms, I think you might enjoy it.
3 stars. Screening on Netflix.