Stella star and creator Ruth Jones treated us to an exclusive preview of her 90-minute Christmas special, and it’s hard to imagine a more satisfying distillation of the festive occasion.
The little town of Pontyberry in the south Wales valleys has seen many comings and goings since 2012 – and this cockle-warming catch-up is no exception.
Beyond Stella’s knack of combining hearty belly laughs with lump-to-the-throat moments, there are jingly hits, a sweet children’s choir, good cheer and distraught tears, new arrivals and the recently departed.
While force-of-nature Mayor Aunty Brenda (Di Botcher) and the council plan a welcome for delegates from Pontyberry’s twin town – the fifth-biggest in Lapland! – the celebrity switch-on is discussed in earnest (“I’ve got Sting on a heavy pencil”).
Stella (Ruth Jones), meanwhile, tries to act as if she’s not extremely pregnant. So partner Michael secretly invites his mother-hen-ish sister Val to stay (enter comedy trouper Josie Lawrence).
But Stel already has a full house, plus presents to buy and pints to pull at the Frisky Fox pub. Something has to give…
Uncynical and heartwarming, Stella is like a reviving blether with old mates, so effortless is its character comedy. There are great gags, a smattering of fab cameos including folk legend Kate Rusby and one very incongruous mercy dash.
It’s jolly but never twee – potty-mouthed Rhian (Maxine Evans) and returning guest Scott Quinnell have put paid to any of that (the latter has Christmas-comedy line of the year).
“We’re really chuffed with it,” Ruth Jones tells Radio Times. “And we were so lucky to have Kate Rusby and her hubbie Damien O’Kane appear in it. We’ve used a lot of Kate’s music over the past few series.”
And fans have another early Christmas present. Ruth adds: “I’m currently at my laptop writing series six! We film in February.”
Nadolig Llawen indeed.
The Christmas edition of Stella is at 9.00pm Friday 23 December on Sky1