As a passionate Scot, I thought my review of Lost At Christmas could only go one of two ways.
Either I was going to embrace every cheesy, clichéd moment of ‘Scotland’s first Christmas Movie,’ shamelessly pointing at every Scottish landmark I could find. Or, I was going to be humming and hawing at every inaccuracy and overplayed stereotype to anyone that would listen for the rest of the week. And as the film started and Jen (Natalie Clark) stumbled into a souvenir shop wearing top-to-toe in tartan in a full Elf get-up from an unsuspecting Fort William street, I was somehow both.
Lost At Christmas is set in Fort William, known as the gateway to Ben Nevis—the UK’s highest mountain and Glencoe’s Three Sisters. With the backdrop of the Western Scottish Highlands already making a stunning setting, add a dusting of snow and the anticipation of Christmas Eve, and you can see why a Scottish Christmas movie could not be set anywhere else.
Based on the acclaimed short film Perfect Strangers, the story follows a heartbroken Jen and Rob (Kenny Boyle) who, after two horrendously traumatic breakups, are stranded when trying to get to Glasgow on Christmas Eve. Ha, with Scotrail? Nice try. The two unlikely travelling companions team up and bicker their way in a sportscar “borrowed” from Jen’s ex, and then on foot through the valley before the weather forces them to find shelter. Fortunately, they come across an Inn—and this one does have a room. The ever-determined optimist, Jen insists she is going to make the most of a bad situation, but the inn’s customers have other plans. While Jen is trying to distract herself with a little Christmas cheer and escape her shattered love life, the other customers had travelled to remote Glencoe because Christmas was exactly what they were trying to escape.
BAFTA-nominated director, Ryan Hendrick, describes Lost At Christmas as a “festive heart warmer.” He is not wrong. There are genuine moments throughout that are really touching and appear effortless. Admittedly, they are rare between awkward dialogue and an unbalanced love story that I almost wished they had scrapped entirely for how much sense it made. But they were there or just about. It seemed the more it tried to be a Christmas film and tick off the obligatory Christmas and rom-com cliché boxes, the harder it was to see the sincere scenes that made this film special.
Most years I am a Jen—an overeager Christmas fanatic—minus the terrible ’tis the season’ catchphrase. I think we would have been good friends. I would have been up for embarrassing Christmas jumpers and I know I would have been sous-chef at the inn Christmas dinner. But with the year we have all had, there is no question that in 2020, I am Rob and the other customers at the inn instead. This year, I do not want false bells and whistles and strained carol singing either. And I doubt I am alone.
At one point, Rob turns to Jen and reminds us that “wrapping your pain in tinsel doesn’t mean it goes away.” A bit harsh, but this year we know how true that is. The backstories of the other customers, and how they found themselves at a rural inn for Christmas, is one of the real highlights of the film. The acting from Sylvester McCoy, Sanjeev Kohli and Clare Grogan was unparalleled, and I only wish their stories took center stage over a watered-down romance that could have been in every noughties rom-com ever created. A dramatic slow-motion run-up kiss? Nah, I’ll take Sanjeev Kohli making a bet on when the weird couple upstairs is going to hook up, thanks. That’s the Scotland I know.
As harsh as it sounds, the romance’s only saving grace was the ending, after two turbulent days where both Jen and Rob had been broken up with in what can only be described as two of the most emotionally-scarring breakups I have ever seen. These two strangers have been thrown together and, having known each other for all of 48 hours, get together for a two-minute romance sequence. Just when they arrive in Glasgow and you are about to throw your hands up in the air and scream about how unrealistic and unhealthy it would be for this couple to be together, something unexpected happens.
And it might not be your definition of heart-warming but truthfully, I thought it was the perfect ending. To the romantics amongst you, I warn you now they did not run through an airport or get married at the inn on the spot. The ending remains refreshing, unexpected and true to the film I wanted it to be.
If you look between all the over-the-top Christmas/rom-com clichés and focus on its message and all the softer, funny and honest moments, you’ll find a genuine and heartfelt story that is worth coming back to every year.
Lost At Christmas will be released in UK cinemas on 4 December and digitally on 7 December.
Words by Rebecca Carey
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