I loved this! When I saw the previews, it was evident that this was definitely off the beaten track for Hallmark. The teaser featured what appeared to be a court case deciding the true authorship of the famous Christmas poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas staged as a play. A play within a play? And it was evident that there was a romance going on between two of the actors and maybe some ghosts? I didn’t know quite what to make of it, but it turned out to be a delight from beginning to end.
Torrey DeVitto plays Madison Rush, a successful actress who started off as a child star in a tv series whose catchphrase was “Great Googly!”. She is beloved for that role (people are always yelling “Great Googly!” at her). She is also loved for a romantic movie that she starred in with fellow actor, Connor Avery. People still talk of their epic kiss in “Christmastime Cupid.”
Madison who is anxious to move forward from acting and into directing is in Troy New York for her first directing job. Her play is based on the mock trial described above. The trial was a real thing. It was held at the county courthouse in Troy in 2013 to determine the long-debated authorship of the 1823 poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas: Clement C. Moore or Henry Livingston, a local gentleman farmer. the first trial resulted in a hung jury so it was re-staged the next year and the verdict was that Henry Livingston was the true author of the poem. I didn’t know any of this stuff! Troy’s history with the poem, The Victorian Stroll, the disputed authorship were all news to me, and I loved it! The Hallmark version of the trial, which uses the city’s annual Victorian Stroll (kind of a Victorian Renaissance Festival) as a backdrop for the movie, may or may not have a different verdict.
In the movie, the play is funded by a rich guy in order to give his girlfriend Lena the starring role to jumpstart her ambition to be an actress. She is a rank amateur and hopeless as an actress. In fact, she can hardly read, let alone act! Also starring, is Madison’s leading man from their movie, Connor Avery, he of the famous kiss.
Madison tackles every challenge thrown at her during preparations for the play and there are plenty. She awakens the talent in Lena by giving her confidence in her abilities, deals with last-minute interferences from the producer, her agent needling her to go back to acting which is where the money is, and many more. The most challenging of the challenges though is the appearance of two mysterious actors who first show up at the Victorian Stroll in costume and then appear during rehearsals to play the two combatants Moore and Livingston. They take over the script but they are wonderful and take the play in a new and exciting direction. Madison bravely just goes with the surprise turn her production has taken. Unfortunately, they come and go as they please during rehearsals, don’t stick to any script at all, and leave poor Madison wondering when, or even if, they will show up for the actual performance.
The romance is drama-free and really nice. Madison and Connor like and respect each other and are half in love already (that kiss!) The relationship develops as Madison gets to know Connor’s young daughter who comes for Christmas. Connor respects and likes Madison for going after her dream of directing and is very impressed with the job she is doing despite the many challenges. Madison learns that Connor actually has a law degree and in turn is also very impressed. There is no doubt (is there ever?) that they are made for each other.
All of the actors in this gave superlative performances. The new-to-Hallmark actor who played Connor had charm and appeal to spare, the actors who played the two (spoiler alert!) ghosts of the two rival poets were wonderful, and the actress who played the terrible actress who comes into her own was also excellently terrible, and then not terrible. Her struggles had me on the edge of my seat. Though I must interject that the preview gave away an important plot point. Dumb. There was plenty of humor, intrigue, and suspense. The romance was not center stage in this one but added a sweet touch and a happy hopeful ending. I was happy to see a veteran Hallmark regular making an uncredited appearance as Connor’s mother. It’s getting to be a tradition, and I have started to expect these little welcome treats. In a rarity for Hallmark, one viewing will not be enough for me. I want to watch it again, knowing what I know now.