Frank Capra’s classic festive fantasy has stood the test of time and proved to be just as poignant today as in 1946.
Not being the biggest fan of Christmas films, I was very reluctant to watch this. I had considered opting for one of the more “alternative” Christmas films, such as Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, or more famously Die Hard. In the end, however, It’s a Wonderful Life is what I decided on, and it couldn’t have been a better decision.
It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey, whose life has been overrun by opportunities snatched away. Over the years he has had the chance to go to college, start a new career, and leave Bedford, the town he grew up in. However, he has been kept back by the many people who rely on him. He eventually has the urge to end it all, but is saved by Clarence, his guardian angel, who shows him what the town would be like if he had never been born. He learns how much he means to all the people around him, and how big a mark his existence has left on the lives of the others.
Bailey is the one man who prevents the evil Mr. Potter from privatising every aspect of the town. In Bailey’s vision of a world without him in it, the town is known as “Pottersville.” In reality, George stands up to the man, offering the people all he’s got to protect them from the harsh future at stake.
It’s a Wonderful Life holds a powerful post-war message against capitalism. It also deals with mental health issues in a way that is possibly even more relevant 74 years later, than at the time. It teaches the values of being good to one another alongside the pitfalls of greed.
James Stewart gives a mesmerising performance as the hero of the story. The two scenes between him and Mr Potter – one in which he refuses a huge job offer, and the other in which he comes back for a loan in desperation, only to find out that Mr Potter is in fact the only person who realises how he has been trampled down in life – are both immensely compelling. Many of the supporting roles were impressive playing the same character in a reality both with George and without him, leading to vastly different personalities.
It’s a Wonderful Life was a great treat even for someone who doesn’t often appreciate the sentimentality of Christmas films. It’s coming up to its 75th year of having stayed important, and I’m sure it will last another 75 years after that.
I give this film 4.5 stars!