2010, 90 minutes
A true story of romance, secrets and terrible adventure in which Ed Preston, on his way home from rugby practice in 1940, joins the New Zealand Army to go to World War II. His new wife, Tui, is pregnant and distraught, but he tells her not to worry, he'll be home by Christmas. And so he is — four years later — after escaping from a prison camp in Italy. But while Ed is away, Tui has fallen in love with another man. A remarkable memoir of resilience, determination and love.
Selected: Cannes Cinephile, Sydney, Melbourne, London, Bali Balinale, India, Shanghai
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INSIDE STORY - Sylvia Lawson
16 June 2010
THE SIZE of the Sydney Film Festival – I counted 129 main programs, plus talk sessions and significant short films run as supports – isn't so much a problem for the now massive organisation, which seems to thrive on its own size and complexity. The problem is for the population of cinephiles who want to know their movies as they know their books and music, and take them in at some sort of reasonable pace. The festival is trying to be all things to all kinds of audience, and to pack into less than two weeks a stream of films that might well be paced out over a year. A lot of the time there are three concurrent sessions, sometimes four, with awkward overlaps; if your preferred movies take you from George Street to Circular Quay, you need a bit more than five minutes in between. Navigating the program becomes a tantalising business, even when – as was usually the case – most films had two screenings each.
This high-energy event would still be enjoyable at half the size; and at times in smaller cities, a festival program involving only two venues, and contained inside a single week, can be equally convivial and elating. The Sydney festival has expanded to this degree largely because Sydney has no real cinematheque, and (though the Chauvel tries) no continuing outlet for non-commercial exhibition; the festival is, in a sense, filling a cavernous hole. (Melbourne has the Centre for the Moving Image, Canberra the programs at the National Film and Sound Archive as well as screenings in the various embassies and the National Library; Brisbane now has its active cinematheque within the Gallery of Modern Art.)…
Sometimes one hears people wondering wistfully why New Zealand films are often stronger than Australia's. I leave the question open, while strongly commending Gaylene Preston's excellent Home by Christmas. The main actor is, however, one of our boys; Tony Barry gives a wonderful performance as the director's father. He, with Chelsie Preston-Crayford as his wife, Tui, and others speak and play out the wartime memories Preston gathered and recorded from her parents before their deaths. If you take a hard line on the boundary between history and fiction, this one is a challenge; if however you recognise the deep entanglements of history and memory, it's a hugely satisfying work. One of my own prejudices is a hostility to re-enactment; generally, I'd rather see an image of a tattered document or cracked photograph than watch (say) Alan Bates as Churchill. But Home by Christmas plays that game and wins. This one too should get around.
VARIETY - Russell Edwards
22 July 2010
A bravura performance by Tony Barry is woven together with WWII archival footage in the touching Kiwi memoir 'Home By Christmas.' Based on interviews vet New Zealand helmer Gaylene Preston conducted with her now-deceased father, pic not only re-creates those conversations and their evocation of wartime yarns, but delivers a subtle dramatization of the home front's less sensational events. Modest film drew strong local biz in April, and vet Australian character actor Barry will warm up Oz auds, though international fests may not appreciate the understatement. Pubcasters should have a look.
In a shadowy minor role, Preston plays herself as she interviews her father, Ed (Tony Barry), about his military life. Though Barry maintains his Aussie accent, he perfectly manifests the charm, wisdom and gentle belligerence of an aging ex-soldier in raconteur mode, recalling his adventures from recruitment to imprisonment. While Ed's words are paramount, they are well supported by precise archival imagery. Second narrative strand focuses on the filmmaker's mother, Tui (Chelsie Preston-Crayford, the helmer's daughter). Aided by superb art direction and a strong score by Preston's sister, Jan, pic communicates the complexity of home life with judicious minimalism.
NANA GOES TO THE MOVIES
9 May 2010 | Rating: 5/5
This giant documentary type movie was a nostalgic trip down memory lane for those of us who lived through the 2nd World War. The War veteran who tells the story, Eddie Preston, played so convincingly by Tony Barry, gives a masterly account of the part he played in the war. It cannot be easy to talk so naturally and modestly about what he did and what happened to him, but he does it with the greatest of ease. There was humour in the way the men were shown enlisting, an excitement about the adventure ahead and a very real feeling of apprehension as Eddie tells his wife and family not to worry he will be home by Christmas. The authenticity of the script written so excellently by Gaylene Preston, reminds the viewer of those years when we farewelled all the young men in the community, in the flower of their youth. I remember so vividly attending all the farewell dances for servicemen in our district and 6 years later, if they were lucky, we welcomed them home. In the meantime there was such a serious dearth of manpower that everyone had to turn to, and tackle the farm work. Land girls were employed and even the local minister lent a hand with the harvesting, until he,too,went overseas to be a Padre for the troops.
In the movie, Ed's young, pregnant wife is admirably played by Preston's own daughter, Chelsea. An attractive young wife, alone with a dear little boy, she naturally attracts male attention but remains faithful to Ed. His war ends early with his capture and time spent in a prisoner of war camp in Italy. They establish a camaraderie with their Italian hosts and when Italy capitulises Ed takes off with 3 friends and finally reaches Switzerland. His homecoming is so typical of what many went through, resuming civilian lifeagain and getting to know his small son whom he has never met, and recapturing his marital bliss. All this he achieves in a down to earth way. I am glad that something many of us know from first hand, now has its place in the annals of history. If you are too young to have lived through it go and enjoy the film and learn of the experiences of the women on the home front. It is a touching Kiwi wartime classic.
I rate it 5 balls of wool out of 5.
HAWKE'S BAY TODAY - Amanda Jackson
7 May 2010 | Rating: 5/5
In an unswervingly accurate recount of personal interviews with her father, Ed, about his experiences of World War II, Gaylene Preston has created something extraordinary. Quintessentially kiwi and straightforward, the revelations and disclosures are low key yet high impact because of their very simplicity.
Speaking into a microphone has not clouded or subdued the recollections, nor the statements, of personal philosophy. Pearls of enlightenment are scattered throughout the stories. One young soldier's experiences of the war – he was in combat only briefly and spent the duration as a prisoner of war in Italy – are typically understated.
Basing the script on the recordings, Tony Barry, who plays Ed Preston, has responded to it in an absolutely flawless, completely absorbing and tender performance.
He gives the most convincing performance I have seen for years. Interspersed among the scenes of his actual retelling are short pieces flashed across the screen like swift and sudden memories, including beautifully detailed scenes of Tui, his lovely young wife, whom he left pregnant when he enlisted. Martin Henderson plays the young Ed and has a wonderful stage presence. His appearances are all too brief.
Preston's own daughter plays Tui. Ed's story is as honest as it is unremarkable in terms of war experiences. But it gives a rare insight into such experiences and is told with exquisite honesty.
NELSON MAIL - David Manning
5 May 2010 | Rating: 4/5
Home By Christmas, a memoir of one Kiwi's wartime experiences and his wife's concurrent loneliness back in New Zealand, is a child of Gaylene Preston's 1995 documentary War Stories (Our Mothers Never Told Us).
That film consisted of seven women candidly relating their wartime experiences in New Zealand. One was Preston's mother Tui, who described her romantic involvement with another man while husband Ed was serving overseas.
It helps to know that, otherwise the moviegoer can only assume watching Home By Christmas that Tui Preston at some stage confided in her film-maker daughter, Gaylene, what happened, since the movie only has Ed Preston being interviewed and he never mentions it.
Australian actor Tony Barry superbly portrays Ed as a man matter-of-factly telling his daughter 'some things' that happened after he impulsively joined the New Zealand Army in 1940 and headed overseas, leaving behind a young, pregnant wife.
Martin Henderson plays young Ed in flashback depictions of Ed going off to war and returning home by Christmas, just four years later than he had expected. Playing Tui as a young woman is her granddaughter, Chelsie Preston Crayford.
Writer-director Gaylene Preston uses old photographs and archival film footage to illustrate Ed's story – at one point he was reported missing, then became a POW – while dramatising Tui's worries, loneliness and romance with a local photographer, of which Ed never acknowledges awareness (he died, aged 80, in 1992 before War Stories was made; Tui died, aged 90, in 2006).
What occurs back in Greymouth with Tui, unknown to Ed, and the question of what will happen when he returns gives the film its buoyant interest, with Preston again showing the ability to capture the look and feel for a period, much as she did in Bread and Roses (1993).
Ed's story is a hopscotching snapshot sample of a wartime experience. Rather than what it specifically tells, its importance is in Ed agreeing, here because of failing health, to talk about it. If men and women are willing and able to record their experiences during traumatic times, it provides a human, personal substance to make it easier for those who follow not to forget them.
WAIKATO TIMES - Sam Edwards
3 May 2010 | A Kiwi Family Finally Mentions the War
Can I fault this film? No, and even if I were in the camp of anti-Kiwiflic film critics, which I am unashamedly not, the only way I could rip into Kiwi cinema icon Gaylene Preston's new film would be to display my own critical ineptitude. This is a film with style, and the style displays a New Zealand sensibility so profound that it single-handedly restores a sense of what it is to live in this country. We are what we are because of where we come from. We are inescapably the products of our past, and not knowing that past is not to know ourselves.
Politicians and PC educators have dumped that past from our curricula. The superficiality of media reporting delivers a world far removed from our realities, inflicting on us a 24/7 diet of cultures which are neither nourishing nor superior. Our prime minister has made political capital from a cynical cutting short of his overseas trip because three servicemen died when their helicopter crashed – and no, he would not have done it for three electricians in a van, but these were military men.
They are, however, no different from the men in Preston's film, and the story Preston tells of Kiwi men who went to war, shows just how humanly ordinary and individually valuable each one was.
Typically, too, in one of the funniest sequences in the film, these guys enlisted after a rugby practice but didn't bother to tell their wives because their understanding of going to war was in the category of a paid holiday from which they would be home by Christmas.
So what is it about this film which is so compelling? Well, director Gaylene Preston is writing from her own experience, experience already focused by her earlier war film, War Stories Our Mothers Never Told Us.
That was the story of her mother, Tui, and other women like her, who experienced life when most of the men in New Zealand went off with the New Zealand forces to fight for King and Country in World War II.
That was a telling document, moving and revealing, and now she balances it with her father's story, told only when he knew he was terminally ill.
Old soldiers rarely talked about the war. When they did, they were largely romanticised fabrications. Anyone who has a close family member who served overseas will know that.
Preston, however, persuaded her Dad, Ed Preston, to tell her about his experiences, recorded them, and over a period of years, has turned those recordings into this film.
This is true documentary, albeit recreated by actors and enhanced by archival stills and footage. But as in the best documentaries, it captures the essence of its subject and conveys it to the audience.
And, please note, 'documentary' does not equate with dull sincerity. This is sparkling, perceptive, revealing cinema, authentic, genuine, and captivating, at times very funny indeed, at others displaying the disturbingly untoward effects of war, even though it is fought in countries other than New Zealand.
It is further enhanced, and in a strangely satisfying way, by the presence of Preston's daughter, Chelsie Preston-Crayford, who plays Tui Preston, her grandmother, with a sense of life and feeling for what it was to be a New Zealand woman 60 years ago and what her grandmother was shown to have been in the earlier film, War Stories.
The superb casting included the comparatively minor role played by Martin Henderson as the soldier Ed Preston and the inspired performance of Tony Barry as the elder Preston. Barry, shot in close-up by Alun Bollinger, twinkled and reminisced and drew the audience in with an apparently artless charm which brought the screen Ed Preston to genuine life, and in long shot could move us to tears.
If there is a difficulty with the film it is in making the match between Ed Preston the younger (Henderson) and Ed the older (Barry) – even though Barry says at one point that he didn't realise he was so good looking as a young man. So, enjoy this film. It is, like a traditional Sunday dinner, to be savoured and gently digested, and made to develop our understanding as much as it provides the best of entertainment.
It is memorable movie making.
THE DOMINION POST - Graeme Tuckett
1 May 2010 | Stunning Achievement
Wellington film-maker Gaylene Preston's HOME BY CHRISTMAS is a cracker.
Fifteen years ago, writer/director Gaylene Preston made the documentary War Stories (Our Mothers Never Told Us). In that film, Preston presented us with interviews – interwoven with music and still photographs – from seven women who had lived through World War II.
War Stories is a graceful, dignified, and startlingly honest take on what a war really does to the people who live through it.
The physical valour and violence of the front lines is too easily mythologised and sold back to us, but the quieter, gentler, subtler travails of the people left behind – especially that of the wives and mothers – is a more elusive tale to tell. In Home by Christmas, Preston takes one of those seven stories – her own mother's history – and expands it into a film in its own right. Tui Preston had only been married for a few months when her young husband, Ed, joined up and was sent off to north Africa to fight.
'Don't worry,' said Ed, 'I'll be home by Christmas' – and so he was. Four years late. Ed spent most of his war in an Italian POW camp. Back in Greymouth, Tui, abandoned while pregnant by a husband who had signed up on the way home from the footie, began an affair with another man. In a series of elegantly staged recreations, Preston shows us wartime in a small West Coast town.
There is an attention to detail, manner, dress and speech here that is completely convincing. Chelsie Preston-Crayford – Gaylene's daughter – is luminous as Tui. Next to her, Martin Henderson brings a warmth and humility to the role of the young Ed that Hollywood might never let him show again. But it is Tony Barry, bringing to life the elder Ed Preston, in the recreations of the interviews that made this film possible, who will put the lump in your throat and the smoke in your eye. Barry is a wondrous actor, and his performance here is simply extraordinary. There is a transparency, intelligence, and a decency to Barry that made me forget – for long moments – that I was watching an actor at work. His reading of 'the lines' is perfect, but Barry also manages to communicate perfectly everything that wasn't said, that wasn't written down. It's a rare and special performance, and it perfectly ballasts this gentle, funny, utterly truthful and reflective film.
Home by Christmas is a stunning achievement by everyone involved. Go see it.
OTAGO DAILY TIMES - Christine Powley
17 June 1993 | Her Father's War
Kiwi director Gaylene Preston is best loved for the film War Stories Our Mothers Never Told Us, which recounts the wartime experiences of seven Kiwi women, including her mother. With Home By Christmas (Rialto) she turns to her father's war memories and again she has produced an instant Kiwi classic, likely to be a classroom resource for generations.
Near the end of his life she persuaded her dad Ed to be interviewed on tape about his war. It is these tapes she has dramatised.
Edward Preston (played by Tony Barry and Martin Henderson) is a typical old codger, carefree down at the bowling club but keeping his emotional cards close to his chest. Ed left a young pregnant wife for an overseas adventure and the promise of being back before Christmas. He later says he kept his promise, just mucked up over which Christmas. While war is hell, Ed is more interested in recalling the larks.
There are amusing intergenerational conflicts. Gaylene keeps asking about sex and a testy Ed says it was food they were worried about. Home by Christmas is a moving tribute to the sort of Kiwi joker who seems to be going the way of the dodo.
Best thing: Tony Barry is wonderful as an old bloke reluctantly recounting his past. He manages to play Ed as extraordinary and ordinary, which of course he was. Worst thing: Ed spins a good yarn but he is always holding back. The habit of sparing those who were not there the real details is too ingrained.
See it with: someone who lived through the war – or someone who has never heard of it. Either way it will spark some great conversations.
Flicks.co.nz - Andreas Heinemann
29 April 2010
A film memoir based on NZ filmmaker Gaylene Preston's (Bread & Roses, War Stories) interviews with her father about his World War II experiences. Stars Martin Henderson. In cinemas nationwide from today.
While the artistic and continued commercial success of Boy continues to be the big news in the local film scene, you have to hope it doesn't overshadow this very different but similarly impressive release. In its own way, Home By Christmas should become the definitive New Zealand war movie.
The story is told through an interview with a veteran, which is a fitting way to communicate the events of World War II. Most of us have an elderly relative who went through the battles in far off lands and this method captures the time and distance between those happenings and us. This structure combines with richly-coloured recreations and stylised stock footage that imbue the aesthetic with a faded old world charm, capturing a sense of both romanticism and the harsh realities of combat.
As well as the filmmaking itself, the story it depicts is absorbing. Tales of prisoner-of-war camps contrast with the scent of illicit love affairs back home to create a genuine emotional core. This is heightened by the disconnect between the two main characters, ably performed by Martin Henderson and Chelsie Preston-Crayford (playing her real-life grandmother).
A great mix of social history, romance and artistic vision combine to create a film every New Zealander should see.
NEW ZEALAND HERALD - Peter Calder
24 April 2010
Verdict: A classic New Zealand story, perfectly told In 1995, film-maker Gaylene Preston sat seven New Zealand women down in front of the camera and had them recall their experiences of life on the home front, during World War II. The result was that rarest of things – a newly minted work that instantly became a precious cultural artefact. Women's stories are less often told than men's (although Preston's diverse output, which includes a biopic of pioneering unionist Sonja Davies, has done much to redress that balance) and War Stories – one of whose interviewees was Preston's mother, Tui – was a lovingly detailed portrait, as eye-opening as it was moving, of Milton's idea that 'they also serve who only stand and wait'.
Her new film, which touchingly opens with the ringing song of a tui under the titles and centres on her father, Ed, tells the story of many thousands of Kiwi men. Enlisting on impulse on the way home from rugby practice in Greymouth in 1940, he tells his stunned wife, who is carrying their first child, that he'll 'probably be home by Christmas'.
His blithe pronouncement is loaded with dramatic irony, of course, and the film that follows shows us why. Ed Preston's war was short on battlefield glory; he was a prisoner of war within weeks and it would be a few more Christmases before he made it back to Greymouth.
At all costs, resist the temptation to see this as a dry and worthy war history. What Preston has done here is capture the essence of her generation's experience of their parents and distilled it into a film that every New Zealander should see. She's based the film on audio interviews she conducted with her dying father several years before War Stories was made. In those, he was tellingly discreet in case Tui heard them after he had gone, but in this filmed version his evasiveness becomes profoundly expressive.
Much of that is down to a brilliant performance by Barry who enacts Eddie's reminiscences with an eerily precise authenticity. Bringing impromptu speech to life is a task that eludes the best of actors, but Barry delivers a masterclass, not reciting from a script but somehow inhaling the essence of what Eddie said and becoming a complete character of plausibility and conviction.
The fact that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer adds another level of resonance to a story full of piercing ironies.
The interviews are seamlessly interwoven with archive footage and dramatisations in which Henderson and Preston-Crayford, the director's daughter, play her parents.
It's a heady mix but the result is a small miracle of a film, a triumphant marriage of form and content and an instant classic. I cannot recommend it too highly.
RADIO NEW ZEALAND - Graeme Tuckett
22nd April 2010
'I was absolutely entranced, was choking back tears' 'Simply one of the best films we as a country have produced in many many many years' 'Martin Henderson does the best work of his career and Chelsie more than holds her own against Henderson, and Tony Barry does beautiful work'.
TVNZ.CO.NZ - Darren Bevan
16th April 2010
With The Pacific now underway on TV ONE, there's a lot of nostalgia in the air.
And Home By Christmas will simply compound that. It's a New Zealand film memoir by Gaylene Preston based on interviews with her father Ed Preston about his time in World War 2 in Italy and North Africa.
Culled from archive material, Preston's called in the services of Goodbye Pork Pie's Tony Barry to narrate the material and essentially play her father. But as we learn early on, Ed was never too keen on sharing his experiences until one day, as a Christmas present, he decided to open up to his daughter.
What unfolds is the story of one man and how he signed up to the NZ Army back in 1940 because the rest of the rugby team were doing it for a free holiday and he didn't want to be left out. As he remarks, they never expected to see any war – but that was the opposite from what they'd ever have hoped.
In between Ed's recollections, the story of the domestic life and wife he left behind, Tui (played by Chelsie Preston Crayford from The Cult and Show Of Hands) unfolds in flashback. It's a clever way to tell the story and there's a simplicity to it which is appealing – and while it's not the most original story, there's a level of truth to it which makes it universal.
Through old photos, footage from the times and period recreation, the whole story of Ed Preston comes to life - it's a bold narrative touch which makes the memoir stand out. There's a subtlety and restrained feeling about this film which makes it engaging – Ed's tell it like it is style means Home By Christmas will strike a chord with many in the audience who've heard hints of similar stories from previous generations. It's also a humbling and haunting film – but one which is important and needs to be told; given that old soldiers didn't tend to talk about what they saw or what happened, many memories and reasons to be grateful for their sacrifice have been lost over the years.
NZ FILM FESTIVAL NEWSLETTER - Bill Gosden
14 April 2010
No baby-boomer in films has furnished a more searching or deeply appreciative picture of the preceding generation of New Zealanders than Gaylene Preston. Having presented the experience of women so persuasively in her dramatised account of Sonja Davies' Bread and Roses and her documentary classic War Stories, she has now made a film that pins down the blokes. Preston's mother Tui was one of the women interviewed in War Stories. In Home by Christmas, which releases at the end of April, it's Dad's turn. The new movie is based on an interview about his war service that Ed Preston gave his daughter towards the end of his life.
Anyone who feared that asking an actor to re-enact that interview would merely jangle the relationship between documentary and fiction seriously underestimated actor Tony Barry, the rapport he has with Gaylene, and his deep imaginative identification with Ed. (They may have underestimated Ed too.) Barry's performance evokes the manner of a whole vanishing generation of Kiwi (and I daresay Australian) working man: his reluctant, down-to-earth account of his war experiences; his empathy for the enlisted men on the other side; his disavowal of heroism, not to mention his suspicion of those who consider Anzac Day something to celebrate. Unlike the women in War Stories he also possesses an impressive ability to float past his daughter's questions about sex-during-wartime as though she never asked them. His was, after all, of the generation excoriated in 'The Times they are a Changin'.
Men were never entirely ignored in Preston's previous visits to the past. Here the life of the woman who stayed behind is quietly dramatised in parallel to Ed's story (and the wealth of archival footage that supports it). Gaylene's daughter Chelsie Preston-Crayford plays young Tui opposite Martin Henderson as Ed. Gaylene's sister pianist Jan Preston wrote the score. Parading his own experience, let alone family secrets, in public might not have been Ed's style, but in overruling his modesty (while keeping it evident), his female progeny have reacquainted us with a plain humanity and wry good humour that once ran deep in this country's view of itself.
Old Ed - Tony Barry
Young Ed - Martin Henderson
Tui - Chelsie Preston Crayford
Director - Gaylene Preston
Producer - Robin Laing
Executive Producer - Dorothee Pinfold
Designer - Rick Kofoed
Editor - Paul Sutorius
Photography - Allen Guilford
Camera Operators - Alun Bollinger, Leon Narby
Music - John Charles
Script - Graeme Tetley and Gaylene Preston