Christmas Food History Special, Part II: 
A Child's Christmas in Wales (Starring Denholm Elliot), 1986

We continue our 2017 “food in holiday cinema” series with my very favorite Christmas movie, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, starring the fabulous Denholm Elliot.  A co-star of Elliot’s once said of his uncanny ability to steal a movie scene: "Never act with children, dogs, or Denholm Elliott."  

A Child’s Christmas in Wales is based on the short story of the same name by the esteemed 20th century Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.  (I love the beautiful illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman from 1985, shown at right. My question is: were the producers of the movie inspired by her illustrations, or the other way 'round?  Her illustrations and the movie's scenes bear an uncanny resemblance.)  

Written in 1950, just a few years before the poet's death, this beautiful story tells the tale of an earlier time, of an old man's memories of his boyhood Christmas in Wales in the early 20th century. Is this story from Thomas's own memories, or the tale of the Christmases he wished he'd had?

Whatever the case, Thomas once wrote, ”I was born in a large Welsh industrial town at the beginning of the Great War: an ugly, lovely town (or so it was, and is, to me).”  The son of a seamstress and a teacher, Thomas left school at age 16 to make his way in the world, working as a journalist, BBC script writer, and poet, among other occupations.  He came to New York City in 1952 during an American tour, and during that trip he was cajoled into recording a reading of A Child's Christmas in Wales.  

Here is the digitized version of his original (crackly) recorded reading!  Dylan Thomas had a fabulous way of performing his lovely story, probably his best-loved piece.

In some cases, I feel like the movie adaptation of the book is (almost) better than the book, and this is one of those movies: beautiful acting, funny, memorable characters, and wonderful lines, all straight from the book.  Denholm Elliot is the Grandpa we all want to curl up next to on the sofa on a chilly winter's night, and listen to his stories of glorious Christmases past.  

Filmed in the charming Welsh village of Montgomery (north of Thomas's native town, Swansea), we are transported back in time to a day when people actually saw their neighbors, walked instead of driving around in cars (for the most part), and thought it was fun to sing silly songs in the front parlor.  Sounds good to me!   

This movie always makes me hungry.  The festive scenes of feasting outdo themselves, one after another, in joyous abandon.  Thomas describes the charming Welsh village: 

Mistletoe hung from the gas brackets in all the front parlors; there was sherry and walnuts and bottled beer and crackers by the dessertspoons; and the cats in their fur-abouts watched the fires; and the high-heaped fire spat, all ready for the chestnuts and the mulling pokers.

Christmas dinner is magnificent: 

Then I would be slap-dashing home, the gravy smell of the dinners of others, the bird smell, the brandy, the pudding and mince, coiling up to my nostrils...for dinner we had turkey and blazing pudding...

The wine flows freely, Auntie Hannah sings in the backyard "like a big-bosomed thrush" (after one too many glasses of port), and everyone has to take a little nap to recover before dessert:

And then, at tea the recovered Uncles would be jolly; and the ice cake loomed in the center of the table like a marble grave. Auntie Hannah laced her tea with rum, because it was only once a year.

In the evening the family gathers around the piano and sings funny songs (the movie's cast, always entertaining, is a stitch in this scene), and then it's time for bed for the little boy, accompanied by the soft strains of "All Through The Night," an old Welsh air (the song's title is Ar Hyd y Nos in Welsh).  Here's a recording of the piece performed in the traditional Welsh, then in an English adaptation:

The closing scene of the movie, and that of the book, is of a perfectly peaceful Christmas night:

Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.

+ Did you miss the other installments of our 2017 Christmas Food History Special?  Please click here to get caught up!