One of the most lovely things you can watch during the holiday season is the 1987 film of Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” starring the late Denholm Elliott. It’s a faithful yet playful adaptation of Thomas’ work, a narrative poem conceived as a radio play, and the film is at once appropriately sentimental about Christmases past and tartly realistic about the Christmas depicted in the film’s present. It stands in contrast to so much Christmas entertainment that is either gloppy or pious; Elliott, as both narrator and lead actor, provides a vinegary crispness to the role of nostalgic grandfather.
But here’s the thing: A Child’s Christmas in Wales is difficult to find.
Go to Amazon.com and you’ll be told that the DVD version is “not available.” The VHS copy I bought years ago skips and stutters, and its colors are faded — I always expect the tape to snap when we hook up the old VHS machine to re-play it on Christmas Eve, a Tucker family tradition.
The above is a rare clip of the movie to be found online. Why is this movie, which everyone I know who’s familiar with it cherishes, so difficult to possess? I’m sure that if I wasn’t already made lazy from pre-Christmas noshing, I could find out whether the rights to it have become tangled. I do know that one way to secure a copy is to buy a two-disc, six-movie DVD set that otherwise includes dross such as (God bless us, every one) the 2010 Faye Dunaway TV-movie A Family Thanksgiving.
You can buy a CD of Dylan Thomas reciting the work, thanks to that once-exemplary company Caedmon. (I remember one Christmas Eve in Manhattan calling up the Tower Records that used to be down near NYU, and getting one of the usual bored, rude whippersnappers who used to staff that outlet. I asked if they had it, and was quickly told yes. Too quickly. I was suspicious. “I’m not asking for the CD of this; I mean a VHS copy of the Denholm Elliott movie.” Sure, sure, he cut me off; he promised he’d keep it behind the counter for me. A long subway ride later, I presented myself at the Tower desk only to be handed a copy of the Caedmon CD. A Christmas strangulation briefly crossed my mind… )
The film deserves as wide an audience as any other Christmas fare; it used to be shown regularly on PBS, but, alas, PBS is too busy pushing Antiques Roadshow and The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About Christmas! to keep A Child’s Christmas in Wales, with its calm, hypnotizing pace, on its annual schedule, it seems.
I’ve never known anyone who wasn’t lulled into purring comfort as Denholm Elliott murmurs the lines:
“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
Does anyone else out there know and love this movie as much as I do?