If you’re seeking an antidote to the prevailing atmosphere of seasonal schmaltz, then look no further than BBC1's Lost Christmas, a haunting fable starring Eddie Izzard and newcomer Larry Mills.
It airs this Sunday at 5:30pm (with a Christmas Eve repeat on CBBC), but don’t go expecting anodyne teatime fare. This is a very modern fairy tale with bereavement as one of its key themes.
“I don’t see it as a kids’ thing,” says Izzard, who’s on stage at London’s British Film Institute following a preview screening that left both parents and offspring with tears in their eyes. “I think you’ve got to be a teenager really to grab hold of where we’re going with the issues of loss.”
In the drama, Izzard plays Anthony, a mysterious man who appears on Manchester’s snowy streets with a remarkable gift that enables him to find the lost. The trouble is that he has no memory of who he really is.
“Anthony’s walking around without fear and without memory and that’s interesting to play because he has this ethereal quality.”
What follows is a rather dark and cinematic tale with shades of It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol and even – thanks to 11-year-old Mills’s strong performance as bereaved child Goose – a touch of Oliver Twist. As Anthony transforms the lives of five ordinary people whose existences have been shattered by the decisions of their past, viewers will realise that this is not your average children’s TV commission.
“I think it’s pushing the boundaries,” agrees Sue Nott, executive producer for CBBC. “But these are the kind of stories that I think people accept and expect at Christmas. Yes, it is quite a hard one for us. But our hope is that people will watch and enjoy it as a family.”
Of course, there’s no edict that states that all output for youngsters must be sugar-coated. And as Anthony remarks to Goose in a scene set in a wintry cemetery, “Sometimes you have to go towards the things that make you want to run away.”
Izzard describes Lost Christmas as “timeless” and certainly the production deserves to become a staple part of the festive TV schedules. Izzard’s central presence is heartfelt without being sentimental and, while bad things happen, there is also the possibility of redemption. “There’s a beautiful sense of doing something noble and good for somebody else,” says Nott, “and being given a second chance.”
Lost Christmas is on Sunday 18 December at 5:30pm on BBC1/BBC1 HD