It seems we’ve all changed our minds on those made-for-cable holiday movies in the past couple of years. Since they’ve grown in popularity and criticism, Christmas movies are no longer considered guilty pleasures but bonafide films. While some would still rather claw their eyes out before watching two people fall in love under a blanket of snow, most of us are happy to sit back and enjoy the cinematic equivalent of a hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night.
Inspired by the delightfully warm Hallmark films of yore, Mary Lambert’s “A Castle for Christmas” is the Starbucks hot chocolate of Christmas movies, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The screenplay, by Ally Carter and Kim Beyer-Johnson, pours Hallmark tropes into a Venti-sized cup with cream, sugar, dollops of powder and sprinkles of cinnamon for added flavor.
Arguably two of the sweetest stars at the moment, Brooke Shields and Cary Elwis, are Sophie and Myles, who meet by chance at a Scottish castle where Myles, dressed in a green kilt, is working. Or so it seems…After he gives her a tour, someone tells Sophie that Myles owns the castle and that he’s a Duke who needs money to keep things afloat. Sophie has lots of money—she’s the author of 12 novels, though her last one bombed— which means she can rent Dunbar castle for 90 days to write her next novel, to escape her fans.
She’s also here to write a new chapter in her life. To explore the grounds where her father once worked, Sophie makes friends with a healthy, infectiously giddy group of locals (played by Tina Gray, Stephen Oswald and Andi Osho) who walk her through the gardens, the town’s history and the history of Scotland, in all its majestic, hardscrabble glory. Meanwhile, Myles tries to find ways to get rid of Sophie, putting her up in a chilly, shabby room with no plumbing, heating or WiFi (*gasp!). Things go from very bad to very romantic in short order.
The idea of a high-stakes Scottish vacation is a fine-enough backdrop to display the prowess of these performers. But if anything falters, it’s the script, which waits for 57-minutes before getting to anything Christmas-related. Somehow it feels cheap to put “Christmas” in the title of a movie that’s only half-about Christmas, the other half an “I Know Where I’m Going!”-style romance with castles and seascapes, but without the fairy-tale atmosphere.
The real fun of “A Castle for Christmas” is the second half when our lovers can explore Hallmark scenery. It lights up when the castle lights up, and the pleasure is in watching Sophie and Myles wander holiday-themed set-piece after holiday-themed set-piece, each hall decked with boughs of holly, each palace decked with rows of red and green ribbon. The fact of the matter is that it’s nigh impossible not to enjoy Shields playing an author with Christmas spirit or Elwis as the once-grumpy, now-flirty Duke with a heart of gold. “A Castle for Christmas” delights in a stuffed-stocking of tropes and still offers a few surprises. [C+]