The Bishop's Wife
Dir: Henry Koster
In 1931, the Coca-Cola Company commissioned a Michigan-born illustrator, Haddon Sundblom, to develop a new Christmas advertising campaign featuring Santa Claus. It would certainly not be the first time Santa had been depicted. But it would be the first that depicted him as a jolly man with a white beard and a fur-trimmed red suit.

The adverts were incredibly successful and the image stuck. Sundblom carried on drawing Santa until 1964, and he could change nothing. When one year he forgot to add Santa's wedding ring, fans were quite disturbed, and wrote to the Coca-Cola Company asking what had happend to Mrs. Claus.

Our concept of Christmas, the images that it raises in our minds, and the emotional responses that it produces come from many things. Of course we are influenced by personal childhood memories. We remember family gatherings, great food, and most importantly, presents.
But I believe that we should not ignore the influence of Christmas films upon our appreciation of Christmas.

Christmas films are a very specific genre, and there are a number of important ingredients.

Firstly, the action can take place at any time of year, but the film should climax at Christmas.

The main character should face a crisis. This is not unusual in films. But in a Christmas film, the solution to the crisis must lie in love, kindness and faith.

However harsh and tough the world is, ultimately we must be reminded of human kindness.

Very often there is an element of magic, either a magical figure, angel, or other supernatural element. We are encouraged to believe in this figure and that skepticism is generally a bad thing.

There should be an ultimate message that 'to give is better than to receive'. This can refer to the giving of money or objects, or can be a personal sacrifice that helps another.

But most importantly, a Christmas film must leave you with the feeling that can only be described as 'heartwarming', a feeling that really the world is a lovely place, a feeling that makes us forget wars, starvation and misery.

The reality of Christmas is often dry turkey, squabbles, drunken improprieties, and for many, extreme loneliness.

The Pavlovian response to the concept of Christmas that many people feel - that it is a time of joy, kindness, and warmth, in fact comes from the movies.

Next month, we are showing a series of films which question human existence, and show the confusion, loneliness, and desperation that plague humanity.

And films that make us confront the harsh realities of modern life can be thought-provoking and memorable.

But, who doesn't love, at least for one time in the year, watching a truly heartwarming Christmas film.

'The Bishop's Wife' tells the story of a Bishop, played by David Niven, whose crisis is that he cannot raise the money to build a new cathedral. Dudley, an angel played by Cary Grant, comes to help him, but his kindness and popularity threaten to eclipse that of the Bishop.

It has ice skating, choirs, Christmas shopping, and of course, an angel.

It is one of the most charming Christmas movies ever made.

Paul Spurrier