The Holly and the Ivy

1952 movie

If you haven’t seen it:

the-holly-and-the-ivy-posterIn The Holly and the Ivy a traditional Christmas family reunion is taking place at a country vicarage.

The head of the family, Martin, a parson, is unaware that several of his loved ones have serious problems in their personal lives, which they feel they cannot discuss with him because of his religious views.

Apart from the predictable theme tune, this is a surprising movie. It is actually a rather serious drama about the effect religion has on family relationships.

It is an ensemble piece, and includes well-known stars Celia Johnson and Denholm Elliot, who you will probably recognize. Despite being a Christmas movie though, it has, with its themes and its tone, more in common with Brief Encounter than Trading Places.

If you have seen it:

Scroll down for more.

SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.



Various members of the Gregory family return to the English village of Wyndenham to spend Christmas with Martin, a parson, and head of the family. They include Martin’s son Mick, now a soldier, and daughter Margaret, a fashion writer. Martin’s other daughter Jenny still lives in Wyndenham as she feels it is her duty to look after her father.


Celia Johnson – too old to play the daughter? Perhaps.  Too old for bedtime stories? Definitely.

As Martin prepares his Christmas day sermon, he is unaware that Jenny and Margaret have some serious personal problems that they feel unable to share with him. Margaret has had an illegitimate child who recently died. Jenny meanwhile, wants to marry her boyfriend David and move away, but feels she cannot abandon her father.

Eventually, on Christmas morning, Mick forces his father to face the truth, that everyone is afraid to speak honestly to him. Martin is horrified that he has neglected his family without even realising it. He tells Margaret that he understands life more than she might realise, and does not judge. He persuades her to come home, allowing Jenny to leave with David.


Steve Sunday Says:

Carol singers

Open fires

Gentle snowfall

Cute kids

…No Santa?

Three Ghosts? Angels?

…No? …Really?

Sentimental speeches about the true meaning of Christmas?
…No? …Come on!

What the hell sort of Christmas movie is this?


In the days before TV talent shows, wannabee pop stars had to go door to door.

Well I have heard it said that The Holly and The Ivy is a Christmas movie for people who do not like Christmas movies. It is an interesting drama, and an interesting snapshot of 1950s middle-class society, but it is not Miracle on 34th Street.
It is certainly a film about family though, which is why it does work as a Christmas movie. The main theme – how religion affects family relationships – is one which is very important in real life, but not often tackled seriously in movies. What I liked about the way it was done in The Holly and The Ivy is that although it’s main sympathies were with the religious types, it doesn’t feel the need to punish, convert, or patronise the atheist characters. I sensed that the script was written from someone’s personal experience, and that the writer loved all the characters equally.


Denholm Elliot with some old bags.

I liked most of the characters too. The exception though, was the awful Aunt Lydia. This annoying woman seems to think that the inane things that she says (e.g. Christmas is not as good as it used to be) will be taken more seriously if she says them while gazing into the middle distance with a pained expression on her face. At one point, she says “I always think that engineering’s a little inhuman somehow. It’s people that count. After all, it isn’t petrol and oil that make the world go round is it?”. What nonsense. And she actually says this to an engineer! Rude too. We might have been able to respect her opinion more if she had not made such a fuss about being unable to go first class on the train. As far as I am concerned, she could not have been more unlikable if she had dressed as a Nazi and forced hamsters through a mangle, but her family don’t seem to mind her. Ah well, it is Christmas I suppose.

Trivia Trish Says:

  • The Holly and the Ivy was an adaptation of a west end play. The two aunts were the only cast members to be transferred to the movie.
  • Celia Johnson was 44, playing the part of a 31 year old. She was only six years younger than Ralph Richardson.
  • The actor playing the sergeant major at the beginning was William Hartnell. Eleven years after he appeared in this movie, he became a huge TV star in England – he was the original Doctor Who!

That’s Sergeant Who


Main Cast and Crew:

Ralph Richardson … Rev. Martin Gregory
Celia Johnson … Jenny Gregory
Margaret Leighton … Margaret Gregory
Denholm Elliott … Michael Gregory

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