The feminine side of Christmas
THE role of women in Christmas films tends to be of the “I saw Santa kissing mommy” variety, along with kindly mum putting out the mince pies for the Christmas Eve caller or voices for elves and reindeer in the many animated retelling of the story. But there have been a number of Mrs Claus, and even a daughter Claus. For those whose tastes are more sophisticated than the average American Christmas television audience is assumed to be, there is one stand-out Mrs Claus.
So, continuing our year of celebrating women’s achievements, we are taking a festive break from scientists and musicians and artists and poets. So here are Nine Mrs Clauses, animated and otherwise, beginning with …
Janet McTeer as Mrs Claus in the 2016 M&S television advert. Widely agreed to be the best television Christmas advert that year, and probably one of the best ever, it featured the great stage actress, with her seductively honeyed voice as the wife of the genial Santa. She waves him off on his Christmas Eve duties, cheese and pickle sandwiches duly packed and reminding him not to forget Australia. What he doesn’t know is that his wife has kept one request back which she intends to fulfil herself. Find the ad on YouTube and love it all over again!
Another great English actress, Imelda Staunton, plays Margaret (Mrs) Claus in the 2011 animated film Arthur Christmas, which delighted the critics and the audiences with its warm-hearted good humour. It stars the voices of James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, and Ashley Jensen. Set on Christmas night, it is the story of Santa Claus’s clumsy son Arthur who discovers that the Santas’ high-tech ship has failed to deliver one girl’s present. Arthur goes on a mission to save her Christmas.
Angela Lansbury, an Olivier, Golden Globe and Tony award-winner, and star of the long-running television series Murder, She Wrote, played the title role of Mrs Santa Claus in the 1996 American made-for-television musical fantasy-comedy, which was billed as the first original musical written for television since Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella in 1957. The movie is set in December 1910. Mrs Claus is trying to convince her husband, Santa Claus, to take a new route, but he won’t listen. She takes the sleigh out herself, but is forced to land in New York City, where she is stranded when one of the reindeer (Cupid) becomes injured. As “Mrs. North”, she boards with a family of Jewish immigrants who do not celebrate Christmas. She befriends local children and women, and becomes involved with political issues including child labour and women’s suffrage.
Veteran actress Shirley Booth retired after playing Mrs Claus in the 1974 stop-motion animated film, The Year Without a Santa Claus, based on Phyllis McGinley’s 1956 book of the same name. Santa Claus wakes up with a cold sometime before Christmas. His doctor, who thinks nobody cares about him anymore, advises him to make some changes to his routine, so Santa decides to take a holiday instead of delivering gifts. Mrs. Claus unsuccessfully tries to convince him otherwise, so she enlists two elves named Jingle and Jangle to find proof that people still believe in Santa.
The much-loved musical and comedy actress Debbie Reynolds was under-used as Mrs Claus in the 1998 animated film of Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.
Caroline Rhea was Mrs Claus in the 2001 animation, The Santa Claus Brothers. Santa has three talented sons, Mel, Daryl, and Roy, who have their father’s toy making gift, not to mention scientific genius, but do they understand the true meaning of Christmas?
Another television move, Meet the Santas (2005) starred Crystal Bernard as Beth, who is marrying the man who assumed the mantle of Santa Claus the previous Christmas.
In Santa Baby, a 2006 made-for television film, Jenny McCarthy plays Mary Class, Santa Claus’s daughter who is a high powered businesswoman with her own marketing firm. When her father falls ill near Christmas, she returns to the North Pole and uses her marketing and business management techniques to revitalise the workshop elves.
Faced with several more (increasingly uninspiring sounding) made for television animations, we decided that our last Christmas movie star should not be a Mrs Claus or Mother Christmas at all, but rather the endlessly brilliant and versatile Meryl Streep. There are people who think that Falling In Love (1984) is too sentimental, but with a Manhattan setting, Robert de Niro as the love interest and a very boring husband back in picture postcard New England, who could possibly complain. Plus, they meet in a bookshop. It’s a great film and stands re-watching again and again …
Pictured: Janet McTeer in the 2016 M&S advert; Angela Lansbury as Mrs Santa Claus; Jenny McCarthy in Santa Baby; Arthur Christmas; Meryl Streep and Robert de Niro in Falling in Love.