Staff Recommendation/ It’s a Wonderful Life

Cornerhouse Digital Reporter Mark Slattery reviews It’s a Wonderful Life

Everyone knows the film right? The black and white, Christmassy one from the TV, were Jimmy Stewart attempts suicide but an angel shows him what life would be like if he was never born.

So if we have all seen it and know how it ends what is the point of braving the cold rain of a Manchester winter to watch it again at the cinema? Well, spare me a little festive goodwill and a few minutes between your online present shopping and I’ll explain why this film is for life and not just for Christmas.

Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey (Stewart) a small town businessman in 1940’s America who dreams of escape and adventure. The necessities of life and his strong sense of responsibility conspire to keep him in the town of Bedford Falls until one final piece of bad luck pushes him to a fateful decision. Stood on a snowy bridge on Christmas Eve, he believes that his friends and family would be better off if he was dead and prepares to jump. Clarence (Henry Travers), an angel sent to answer his prayers for help, intervenes with a splash and stops him. George is still despondent though and Clarence uses a little divine intervention to show him what life would be like if he had never been born. A corrupt and seedy Bedford plus sad and lonely friends and family that never existed, teach George that his life does have meaning and he returns to reality to face whatever life brings with a smile.

Just like the celestial Joseph says “if you’re going to help a man you’ll want to know something about him” it is no coincidence that the bridge and Clarence only appear in the final half-hour of the film. It is in George’s life as the quiet hero, loyal friend, loving husband and father, and spokesman for community spirit that this film focuses on and where the real joy of this story lies. Without the weaknesses of Uncle Billy and Mr Gower, the comedy police officer Bert and cab driver Ernie, the charm and romance of his relationship with Mary (Donna Reed), the many times that his generous nature makes sacrifices for those in need or his defiance in the face of the selfish and powerful Mr Potter those final scenes in the ‘unborn sequence’ would count for nothing.

The film was not a hit when released, it did not win any of the Oscars it was nominated for and only truly became popular after a copyright error made it free for networks to show on television year after year. Despite this there are many lessons in life I have learned from this film; lessons about co-operation, true love, responsibility and friendship. Just like George, I’ve learned that it is these good things that make life worthwhile when times look bad. And if you doubt that an old, black and white film can have any relevance in our modern and complicated 21st Century listen carefully when George argues for the people of Bedford against the greedy Mr Potter and his bank.

So bring your loved ones to see It’s a Wonderful Life at Cornerhouse on the film’s 65th anniversary, and I’m sure that when the bells ring and Auld Lang Syne plays you will have had a wonderful time.