Divine entertainment for Christmas

Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young star in 'The Bishop's Wife'
Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young star in 'The Bishop's Wife'

If you find yourself at a Christmas party and conversation’s flagging, just ask people what their favourite festive film is.

Then stand back and let things run their course. It’s one of those questions that gets highly subjective and usually quite passionate replies as childhood nostalgia kicks in and depending on the age range of the respondents.

‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ usually overshadows all else, so I’m making a pitch for the lesser-known but as enjoyable ‘The Bishop’s Wife’ starring Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young.

Far less dark than Frank Capra’s classic, this romantic comedy is no less fanciful in its premise of Bishop Henry Brougham (Niven) praying for guidance in the approach to Christmas when he faces difficulties over the funding of a new cathedral. Guidance he receives in the form of Dudley (Cary Grant), possibly the suavest angel ever.

But while Henry thinks his problem is with the cathedral and its main patron Mrs Hamilton, who is more intent on building it to the glory of her deceased husband than to that of the Almighty, Dudley identifies a far more domestic issue. In his obsession to get the cathedral built, Henry has lost touch with his role as a husband and father. So Dudley, in the guise of Henry’s new assistant (no-one but the bishop knows his identity) charms the household and takes it on himself to cheer up Henry’s wife Julia (Loretta Young). The unforeseen consequence is that he becomes strongly attracted to her.

Feeling that he’s losing his family as well as his cathedral, after Dudley persuades Mrs Hamilton to put the money to better use, Henry has to fight for what’s his.

On the face of it, ‘The Bishop’s Wife’ is just a wonderfully warm and fun Christmas movie, well written and beautifully acted; but if you want to see a moral there, it reminds us to never lose sight of what’s really important...at any time of year.