Sweeping into snowy Scottish Highlands at the very start of Ryan Hendrick’s new romcom Lost at Christmas sets the perfect festive scene. Only the coldest of hearts would not be melted by this magnificent sight. The film’s idyllic setting continues to entice throughout the story, with the latter half played out in an isolated inn set within the impressive mountainous landscape – the stuff of picturesque Christmas dreams.
Based on acclaimed 2015 short Perfect Strangers by the same writer-director, the 2020 feature sees two strangers from Glasgow, optimistic and festive Jen (Love Bite and Still Game‘s Natalie Clark) and cynical Rob (Scottish stage actor Kenny Boyle, star of the short film) stranded in the Highlands after both being dumped/duped on on Christmas Eve. They decide to team up to get back to the big city in time for Christmas Day, but have obstacles placed along the way, including the unpredictable weather, that allows for feelings to flourish and Christmas spirit to reign once more.
Aside from doing wonders for the local tourist board, the story follows the well-trodden romcom path of two people destined to be together but fighting the inevitable. Clark and Boyle as Jen and Rob are not your traditional preened Hollywood romcom leads, adding a quaint sense of normality to the mix that initially feels at odds with what we are used to in this genre. Being native Scottish actors helps with the credibility of both characters, complete with mannerisms.
However, what lets the performances down is a rather clunky script and pregnant pauses in key dialogue – even in the ‘coming together’ scene when one of the characters gets lost in the woods. This means key highs and lows feel awkward to watch and have less impact, resulting in Hendrick’s combined effort never quite hitting the romcom bullseye of euphoria that you come to expect. That is not to say the characters are not individually charming in their own way – especially Jen, but the very end scene is rendered somewhat flat, even redundant.
Clark appeals as a comic actress to watch, carrying many of the scenes and sometimes, overplaying the emotion to compensate. Boyle may well have been re-cast in the feature, but his acting and presence as a romcom lead is questionable, further highlighting the heavy-handed performances at times.
There is a lovely moment between Jen and Sylvester McCoy’s cheeky Ernie outside the inn – where the latter is accompanying his equally playful widower friend Frank (Frazer Hines), holed up and ‘escaping’ the big day like the rest of the inn’s assorted residents. Again, Jen has yet more work to do to convince the stranded collective, including owner Sid (Sanjeev Kohli), to embrace some absent festive cheer. Kohli as clueless, overworked inn keeper Sid is an amusing turn from the comic actor, complete with a running joke about his less than appealing food menu. Where the comedy drowns out the romance, there is a slight glimpse of the Carry On at the inn that only a homegrown offering could inject.
Thankfully, the film picks up the pace and delights in the latter half, with the message of what Christmas really means dominating any romcom element. Granted, there is not the schmaltz of a Hollywood offering, but we are less than sold on the leads’ true ‘meeting of the minds and souls’.
Lost at Christmas and its magical setting seem to offer the perfect Christmas tonic of warm-hearted merriment, desperately needed after a catastrophic year. However, the film’s good intentions and cosy whisky-drinking moments are blighted by the script, the editing and some of the acting. Full of Scottish promise and pride, it lacks true conviction in this genre, which is a shame. Still, the Highlands comes out as the real winner of all hearts and should enjoy a resurgence of visits when lockdown finally ends.
Lost at Christmas is out now in cinemas and on digital download.