tue 25/06/2024

The Heist Before Christmas, Sky Max review - the Santa Claus wars | reviews, news & interviews

The Heist Before Christmas, Sky Max review - the Santa Claus wars

The Heist Before Christmas, Sky Max review - the Santa Claus wars

Timothy Spall and James Nesbitt lead strong cast in Christmas fairy tale

Santas R Us (l to r): Timothy Spall, Joshua McLees, Bamber Todd, James Nesbitt

Not just one, but two Santas in this agreeable seasonal romp. It’s set in small-town Northern Ireland, where single mum Patricia (Laura Donnelly) is struggling to bring up her two young sons, Mikey (Bamber Todd) and Sean (Joshua McLees).

Her job at the Stuff for a Pound shop is barely keeping food on the family table, her boss Mr Brady (Lloyd Hutchinson) is a bully and a liar, and her son Mikey is exhibiting anti-social tendencies (by blowing up the school Christmas tree, for instance).

A wonderful life it isn’t, but it suddenly becomes a bit more exciting when the local Ballycopse Bank is raided by a felon disguised as Santa Claus (James Nesbitt, taking some inspiration from Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa). Clutching a bag full of money, he makes his getaway by weaving through the crowd of Santas gathered for the annual Christmas Santa Dash.

But if Nesbitt is Mr Bad Example, the Yang to his Yin appears in the shape of Timothy Spall’s alternative Santa. Mikey, seeking a bit of spiritual quietude by feeding the birds in the forest, happens across the bedraggled form of Spall, a white-haired, white-bearded Santa who could make quite a plausible King Lear. He claims to have landed in the woods after falling from his sleigh. He seems to speak with an Austrian accent, yet can also utter epithets in Norwegian.

None of this needs to be taken too literally, but in Ronan Blaney’s screenplay, the binary Santas take us on a meandering journey from dark to light, managing to exhume something of the traditional spirit of Christmas from the bare bones of lives where good times never happen. In among the slapstick humour (there are far too many instances of people getting knocked out by a bang on the head, for instance), there’s room for some amusing performances by a cast which is probably a bit too good for the material. Bronagh Waugh lends some light and shade to the role of a firm-but-fair neighbourhood cop, while Hutchinson brings spite and low cunning to his role as SPAM (Stuff for a Pound Area Manager), a man who can’t even be trusted to run an honest raffle. Donnelly (pictured above with Hutchinson) effectively conveys the desperation of a woman reduced to feeding her children with soup made from a random bone scrounged from the local butcher.

Best of the lot, perhaps, is Bamber Todd as Mikey, a kid who has grown up too fast and doesn’t like much of what he sees. It’s hard to believe he really believes Good Santa’s homilies about “wonder and goodness and love”, but hey, this isn’t the season for cynicism.

Spall's white-haired, white-bearded Santa could make a plausible King Lear


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters