Someone joyfully stated to me that Die Hard is a Christmas film, then in the next breath insisted that the classic James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is not. I could not let this second statement lie, so here is why they are wrong.
For those unfamiliar with the film’s plot, it sees 007 tracking down his arch-enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, to an allergy research establishment atop Piz Gloria in the Swiss Alps. To infiltrate it, Bond impersonates a genealogist that Blofeld has been corresponding with. Numerous young ladies also reside there, undergoing treatment for allergies. Bond discovers that Blofeld has been hypnotising them and plans to use these ‘Angels of Death’ to conduct chemical warfare across the world.
Prior to his visit to Piz Gloria, Bond had teamed up with Draco, who is willing to use the resources of his crime organisation to help get rid of Blofeld. Bond has fallen in love with Draco’s daughter, Tracy, and meets up with her when he has to escape from Piz Gloria.
What is a Christmas film?
We can define what constitutes a Christmas film from several releases that definitely belong to the genre. How do we know they are definitely Christmas films? Because HMV flogs them as special ‘Christmas Classics‘ editions, recently renamed on sleeves as the ‘Festive Collection’. That’s my measure and I’m sticking to it, so this includes: Die Hard, Home Alone, It’s a Wonderful Life, Love Actually, Holiday Inn, and The Muppet Christmas Carol.
It is clearly a travesty that HMV has thus far excluded On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (OHMSS) from this collection, but no doubt the outlet’s relatively recent financial difficulties may encourage them to further consider where they have been going wrong.
Christmas films such as those in the Christmas Classics range are made up of numerous elements that we also find in OHMSS. Click play on Nina and let’s begin.
Christmas Special status
OHMSS is not just a Christmas film – it is part of an ongoing series and therefore we can also consider it as a Christmas Special. This brings it alongside television series, which have much less stringent parameters around their definition, namely and simply that said Special should be released during the Festive Period. Here, I am defining the Festive Period as lasting from Advent (beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas) and through the 12 Days of Christmas. OHMSS‘s original UK release date was 18th December 1969 so the film comfortably qualifies as a Christmas Special. This brings us to…
Christmas films might also be released during the Festive Period, though several confirmed Christmas films do not – Die Hard (15th July 1988) and Holiday Inn (4th August 1942) were both summer releases, while Love Actually may be closer (21st November 2003) but isn’t even in Advent.
The only one of the above Christmas Classics released closer to Christmas then OHMSS was It’s a Wonderful Life (20th December 1946). Its release had been hurriedly brought forward so it would be eligible for the 1946 Academy Awards. Nonetheless, this still leaves OHMSS with one of the most Christmassy release dates out of all these Christmas Classics.
A Christmas film should be set during the Festive Period. Does this mean the entire film must take place during that period? No! Of the six Christmas films listed above, only Die Hard and Home Alone take place entirely within the Festive Period. It’s a Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn and The Muppet Christmas Carol all jump across time periods to show many events that do not take place during the festive period. Love Actually begins a whole five weeks before Christmas – outside the Festive Period.
Similarly, OHMSS begins outside the Period. It isn’t definitely stated when Advent begins in the film but we can presume it is shortly before Bond’s visit to Piz Gloria. That visit takes place during Advent with the film’s main climatic scenes taking place on Christmas Eve and during the 12 days of Christmas, so OHMSS offers plenty for a Christmas setting.
Do they know it’s Christmas?
For us to be sure it is Christmas, there should be plenty of typical Christmas elements evident. All the Christmas Classics include decorations, traditional activities (travelling home, the Christmas party, opening presents, nativities) and Christmas-themed songs.
Plenty of these Christmas elements are evident in OHMSS. There are several Christmas trees and decorations around Piz Gloria. On Christmas Eve, the Angels of Death are all preparing to head home for the holidays. The very fact that Blofeld has christened them his “angels” adds to the Christmas theme, referencing the appearance of angels in the nativity story. Like the nativity’s angels spreading the joyful news of the saviour’s birth, Blofeld’s angels will also be spreading something – germ warfare. Before leaving, the Angels sit down with eggnog, a traditional yuletide beverage, to open their presents from Blofeld.
Meanwhile, James Bond has been found out and awakes to the glint of lights and an angel atop a Christmas tree. Blofeld greets him with, “Merry Christmas, 007!” and goes on to play with one of the tree’s decorations.
Once Bond escapes and reaches the nearby village, he finds a full Christmas winter wonderland at the Ice Carnival with more festive displays and stalls selling glühwein. It is while there that we hear the soft tones of Nina and a choir of children singing Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown? If the title and its opening line were not enough for you to be sure this is a Christmas song, it also features lyrics that reference Santa, reindeer, snowflakes and Christmas cards.
After Bond meets Tracy they head off in her car, attempting to get to a safe home for the night. However, like Joseph and Mary in the nativity story, their attempts are frustrated by forces beyond their control. For Joseph and Mary, it was a lack of room at any inn, while Bond and Tracy’s journey is blocked by the snow. Both couples take refuge for the night in a stable and both demonstrate an act of love. Mary gives birth to the baby Jesus, while Bond proposes to Tracy before they consummate their loving relationship – a juxtaposition to their one-night-stand of passion earlier in the film.
Christmas themes: Winter and snow
Winter is a feature of all the Christmas Classics – even if the winter in Die Hard‘s Los Angeles is rather sunny – and all the films except Die Hard feature snow.
OHMSS fully embraces the traditional snowy Christmas card scene, helped partially by the Christmas winter wonderland. The film has tons of snow due to being set in the Swiss Alps and numerous winter sports on display, including curling, bobsled, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and ice skating.
Christmas themes: Family and reconciliation
The importance of family often comes to the fore in Christmas films. It’s a driving force in Die Hard, Home Alone and Love Actually, with protagonists often making great efforts to reconnect with family.
For OHMSS, this comes in the form of Bond’s MI6 family. At the start of the film, he is frustrated and fed up with them, angrily writing a resignation letter. Later, he realises how much they need each other and in desperation on Christmas Eve, it’s them he tries to contact in a phone box. By the film’s conclusion, Bond’s whole MI6 family of M, Q and Miss Moneypenny are present at his wedding.
Christmas themes: Love
Love extends beyond just family and it’s often the end of a Christmas film where this is most evident, with Hugh Grant’s voiceover in Love Actually sickeningly-sweetly telling us that “Love, actually, is all around,” while we see reunifications at an airport. In It’s a Wonderful Life George Bailey discovers that he is loved by his whole town, with this being fully exemplified in their generosity towards him in the film’s final scenes. Scrooge also goes on an emotional journey in The Muppet Christmas Carol, eventually finding compassion towards others, with the film ending on a rousing Christmas number.
In OHMSS Bond gradually falls in love with Tracy. Yes, he does shag other women after seeing her, but this is Bond – he has never been a faithful lover. Nonetheless, he has an awakening when he sees her again in the Swiss village and realises how much he cares about her. Afterwards, he explicitly goes against the British government to rescue her from Blofeld. It may have been a whirlwind romance, but the warm sunshine on their wedding day shows that it is set long after winter and they have not rushed into their marriage in the heat of the moment. True love has come through.
Merry Christmas, 007
OHMSS has a bounty of qualifiers to be considered a Christmas film. It was released during the festive period and is set at Christmas. It has a plethora of strong Christmas elements including decorations, presents, songs and nativity references. Throughout, the film also includes traditional themes of a Christmas film.
By a long stretch, this Christmas Special is the most Christmassy of Bond films and OHMSS fully deserves its place up there in the pantheon of Christmas Classics to be thrilled by, wept at and thoroughly enjoyed during each year’s Festive Period.