Capra’s masterpiece tells the story of George Bailey, a happy-go-lucky young man on the brink of a bright future until he inherits the responsibility of the Building and Loan company his father owned until he passed away. After Bailey becomes so desolate and unfulfilled in his life, an angel is sent from above to show him why he should not take his life for granted and what the world would have been like had he not been part of it.
I can’t express how powerful James Stewart’s performance is, from portraying the optimistic, world-ready, ambitious young man to a bitter, sorrowful scrooge. The transition is paced so well as the film’s length allows for this gradual decline.
My favourite scene is when Mary comes back from college and George begrudgingly visits her. It’s at this point where George’s dissatisfaction for life is truly palpable. He denies that he set out to go to Mary’s in the first place and doesn’t treat her very nicely at all. Mary is clearly keen on George but he wants to refuse the the possibility of yet another thing holding him back in Bedford Falls. (Incidentally, I am from a town called Bedford in United Kingdom). He resists as much as he can until he gives in and in a moment combined with rage, frustration and lust, he embraces Mary and kisses her.
Henry Tranvers performance as Clarence is refreshingly mundane and informal. It’s the perfect whimsical approach as it brings a light lift to Bailey’s depression which had manifested into anger.
I have to say I didn’t know anything about the film other than knowing my father is a big fan. So this year I thought, It’s about time and when is a more perfect day for it, than Christmas Day. Especially as this Christmas, we find ourselves in unprecedented times, separate from most of our families and loved ones, after months of lockdowns and restrictions, the world has been challenged in a unique way.
Perhaps that’s why I found so much peace in Capra’s masterpiece.
A tale of ambition, duty, resentment and redemption, George had to realise the value in the life he has and stop mourning the life he could have had. This is not unlike the journey much of the population has gone through this pandemic. We are more grateful than ever for the little things we once found irksome. Queuing up in a packed pub, tearing your feet off the beer soaked floor to take a half centimeter step forward, only to be elbowed in the boob by a tribal tattooed lad (who surprise surprise doesn’t belong to a tribe) casting aspersions on what the blonde up front rates out of ten, while you clench your fists and grit your teeth waiting for your overpriced glass of vino.
But I digress
But seriously, there isn’t another film I’ve watched this year that I’ve been able to draw so much from, (especially one made in the late ’40s) as much as this one. It’s message is timeless and applicable to a multi-generational audience. I highly recommend this classic as it really is beautiful in it’s portrayal of a man’s experience of life. From highs and low’s and relations with friends, family and foe’s, I really do believe that Capra managed to bring something unique to the screen with this film.
For good hearted souls, who seek to enrich the lives of others and themselves, this film allows us to see past the inevitable lows and see that It really is a Wonderful Life and lest we forget it!