The best TV and film to watch if you’re missing family this Christmas (Picture: BBC/REX)
When we’re kept apart from loved ones, sometimes watching people come together and share experiences on screen is the next best thing.
In 2020, Christmas is going to be tougher than ever for many of us, with lockdown restrictions and last-minute tier changes keeping families apart across the country.
TV and film will have a vital part to play, perhaps now more than ever. Hopefully, if we choose the right things to watch, they can replicate some of the laughs, occasional tears and small joys normally shared around the tree and across the dinner table.
According to psychologist Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo, Christmas telly can do an awful lot of good for our mental health this festive period, and help us all out when we’re missing family.
As well as recommending her own personal choices, Dr Tara spoke about the kind of things we should be looking out for.
Firstly, we shouldn’t always be going for uplifting shows and movies when we’re after a feel-good fix. Dr Tara stresses that a good cry and even a fright-fest can prove invaluable emotional releases at this unprecedented time.
‘We don’t need to just watch feel-good films,’ she told Metro.co.uk. ‘The moments where we shed a tear, and at the end, it’s happy – those moments are really good for us. A lot of people at the moment are holding a lot of stuff in. Back in March, at the beginning of the pandemic, we were all coping with panic and fear. Now, it’s important to release some of that.’
Which Christmas classics should we be watching this year? (Picture: 20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX)
‘People will sometimes shy away from sad things because they don’t want to feel bad. I want to get the message out there actually – it’s very good for you to have a cry during a sad bit of film sometimes.’
‘You also release endorphins, when you’re watching quite traumatic things like horrors and thrillers,’ Dr Tara said. ‘They might not make you feel good, but actually, it is a catharsis. It’s a release and that can be quite good sometimes as well.’
Dr Tara also has a suggestion for how to bond while apart this Christmas – as it turns out, it’s not just the shows and films you watch, but how you watch them that can prove therapeutic. Dr Tara recommends hosting synchronised film night to bring people together remotely.
‘Take turns choosing a film – put on a different time, even in a different house,’ she said. ‘Perhaps you can have FactTime on all the way through a film, or for a debrief at the end.
‘You could also choose the same kind of foods. You can say “we’re having a popcorn or a curry night”. It’s all about trying to do shared things as a family, even if you’re in different houses.’
If you’re seeking inspiration this Christmas, these are some of the specific TV shows and films Dr Tara recommends watching.
The Royle Family (1998-2012)
The classic sitcom comes recommended (Picture: PA)
Dr Tara chose the classic BBC sitcom based around a working family from Manchester as ideal festive viewing, as it’s funny and heartwarming in equal measure. The show’s Christmas specials are some of the most celebrated in British comedy, and Dr Tara says ‘they are a family you have some really lovely core values even though we’re a little bit dysfunctional.’ Remind yourself by catching up with the episodes on iPlayer.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Picture: Warner Bros.)
Dr Tara picked this 80s comedy as the whole film plays with the idea of ‘perfect vs imperfect’ Christmases. With plenty of us not getting the festive period we were expecting, she says the way the film shows ‘value of connections over material things and plans’ is particularly valuable.
‘The whole premise of this film is the dad Clark [played by Chevy Chase] wants his perfect Christmas… and it just goes horrendously wrong. But the upshot being actually they all realise what is important.’
Dr Tara went on to say that it’s a good movie to watch and help rationalise our current situation, realising the core values that are really important at this time of year – even if we’re only able to connect virtually.
‘We might sometimes need to let go to have this perfect Christmas because this is going to be difficult,’ she said.
Home Alone (1990)
Many of us are more like Kevin than ever before in 2020 (Picture: 20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX)
We never need an excuse to return to this classic, but it might have more of an impact on us in 2020 than ever before.
Many of us will be able to empathise with Kevin McCallister (Macauley Culkin) this Christmas, as some of us will be stuck inside while our families are elsewhere – hopefully, though, we won’t have two hapless bad guys on our cases.
The reunion between Kevin and his family after their time apart also offers the chance for us to experience reunion vicariously, too. Dr Tara chose the film as it shows an emotional journey, from young Kevin at first wishing his family would disappear, to being overjoyed to see them return and ‘realising what’s important’.
Family favourite Nativity! (Picture: Mirrorball Films / BBC Films / Screen WM)
If ever we needed an underdog Christmas story, it’s now. This tale of school kids putting on a festive production against all the odds to bring the community together is recommended by Dr Tara, for showing honest people ‘trying their best to do what they can under testing circumstances.’
She adds: ‘It shows what’s important, with values about connecting with family and friends at Christmas – we just have to be creative over how we connect this year.’
Jingle All The Way (1996)
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle all the way (Picture: 20th Century Fox)
This action comedy starring Arnold Schwarzenegger attempting to hunt down an action doll for his son is much smarter than it initially looks. Originally pitched as a satire of the commercialisation of Christmas, Dr Tara thinks it’s a good warning against the dangers of getting hooked on material possessions at this time of year.
The resolution, when Arnold’s character ‘hasn’t noticed how absent he is his dad’, is a satisfying payoff, with Dr Tara saying it’s a good pick for ‘shifting people’s perceptions’ in 2020.
An inspiring and tear-jerking classic (Picture: Moviestore/REX)
This magical, awe inspiring and ultimately heartbreaking animation has been captivating viewers for almost 40 years, and Dr Tara believes there’s value in exploring themes of nostalgia and loss at by rewatching it.
‘This brings back memories for so many people,’ she said, adding that it’s a perfect way for different members of the family to connect and introduce it to others for the first time.
The final moments of the film – we won’t give it away if you haven’t seen it – are some of the saddest in any Christmas movie, and that emotional release can be just as positive for viewers as laughter.
Will Ferrell’s Elf is a Christmas classic (Picture: Alan Markfield/New Line Prods/Kobal/REX)
Another good choice for balancing expectation and reality at Christmas, this Will Ferrell comedy focuses on an Elf as he looks to leave his ‘perfect life’ on the North Pole behind and find his real dad. In the end, the father played by James Caan turns out to be very different the way he imagined.
Dr Tara says that thinking about ‘shifting relationships [and] shifting perspectives when you know things are out of your control’ is a valuable lesson for us all at this time.
Find Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo at horshampsychology.com
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