By Will Barber – Taylor
The single mum makes plans to spend her first Christmas with Michael. However, when he is called away to Birmingham to deal with a family emergency she decides she has to pour her attentions into hospital work, forming a close attachment with an 11-year-old boy with a terminal illness. Meanwhile, with the panto season in full swing, Aunty Brenda puts her unique spin on the town’s production of Cinderella. Ruth Jones and Di Botcher star.
Like the previous series of Stella, the Christmas Special is a warm and dramatic look at life in a small Welsh town, except with more tinsel. The Christmas Special plays on a few themes and is generally successful though there are some parts of the story that feel slightly less tightly written as you might normally expect from the Stella team.
The special centres on Stella’s ambition to celebrate her first Christmas with Michael and her family and this is the main plotline of the special. However, the special is (as you would expect with Stella) packed full of different subplots which all link in to one another. This is the thing that causes the special the most structural problems – there are too many sub plots that don’t feel connected enough. In a normal series of Stella these subplots would be spread across the series but due to this being a one off special they are instead crushed into the lengthier running time causing the episode to feel saggy as it doesn’t really feel the main plot is coming through to the audience. This is further confused by the fact that about half way through the special the main plot seems to change from Stella attempting to have a merry Christmas with Michael (who has to go home to Birmingham) to trying to make a great Christmas for a sick child she meets in the hospital in which she is training. This sudden shift derails the audience’s perception of what is going on and therefore makes the special a bit unsteady in terms of plot structure. However, there are things that work in the special – ironically they are generally the subplots, which are partly responsible for the special’s overall instability.
Examples of this vary throughout the episode. Some of the best bits feature Big Al (Steven Spears) in both comic and dramatic scenes. Spears particularly shines in the scenes in which Big Al plays Father Christmas, with a sense of reluctance which make the scenes funnier as he attempts to put on a jolly front on for the children.
Spears also has a very touching scene, which shows off his acting ability. Big Al takes his girlfriend Celia (Emma Rydal) to the local church to remember her young son who died before his thirteenth birthday. The scene features Big Al talking out loud, attempting to communicate to Celia’s son that she is going to have a great Christmas and he will look after her. It is a beautiful scene which Spears plays to its full potential and make the audience feel empathy towards him – he only wants to make Cecilia happy and let her dead son know that she will be.
While there are some slight problems with the Stella Christmas special, otherwise it is beautifully done. With moving scenes featuring Big Al and comedic scene peppered throughout the special (the Christmas Panto sections being particularly funny) the Stella Christmas Special manages to take you on a magical journey to a small, warm Welsh town in the valleys and it makes you feel that you don’t want to leave when the credits roll.