Words by Andy Caley
The phrase ‘the old ones are the best’ cannot fit anymore perfectly to Frank Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Perhaps one of the greatest Christmas films of all time, this film will warm the darkest places of your heart, and will guarantee a tear to the eye.
The head angels Franklin and Joseph reveal the not-so wonderful life of George Bailey (played by James Stewart) to his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers), who has yet to gain his wings. The kind and generous Bailey gradually distances himself from his dreams by placing everyone else’s well being as his top priority.
Things become worse for poor old George as the powers that be soon push him further down into a, seemingly, never-ending abyss. As he gradually descends into a dark depression, he makes the wish that we all think of at least once in our lives: ‘I wish I never existed.’ His guardian angel shows him the massive impact that George has had upon the world and the people he loves so dearly.
Before we get into the deep end of this review, let’s establish something: this is a difficult film to watch. We see a lovable man go through the deepest and darkest stages of his life, to the point where he is driven to the unthinkable. But, as we all know, when we’re at the bottom, the only place left to go is up – George Bailey injects this message into us to the extant where we want to go and hug our worst enemy.
The simplicity of the film – a man who is going through a mid-life crisis – is where its brilliant complexion lies. At its heart, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is essentially a film studying its characters. We see people in almost every frame of mind, be it happy and jolly, greedy and selfish or despondent and desperate. Yet, at the end of it all, we believe in them as real people, and therefore we place our hearts in them.
The two standouts are, of course, the two leads, James Stewart and Donna Reed (playing George Bailey’s partner, Mary Hatch). They both brilliantly embody the difficulty of true love, marriage, family and work, as well as its pleasures.While Stewart perfectly captures the essence of descent, Reed fantastically shows us its impact. She subtly conveys the pain and sorrow of watching her lover falling into an on-going declining state, where even a simple look can bring you to tears.
With Christmas on the way, this faultless film is the perfect thing to make your holidays the best one yet. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ never lets your heart rest as you experience the ordinary, extraordinary life of George Bailey. This is an incredible and unmissable masterpiece.