The Holly and the Ivy (film)

The Holly and the Ivy is a 1952 British drama film adapted from the play of the same name by Wynyard Browne. It was directed by George More O'Ferrall, produced by Anatole de Grunwald and co-scripted by Browne and de Grunwald. It is about an English clergyman whose neglect of his grown offspring, in his zeal to tend to his parishioners, comes to the surface at a Christmas family gathering. Ralph Richardson, Celia Johnson, and Margaret Leighton star, while Margaret Halstan and Maureen Delany reprised their roles from the stage.[2] It had its U.S release in 1954.

The Holly and the Ivy
Original Australian film poster
Directed byGeorge More O'Ferrall
Produced byAnatole de Grunwald
Written byWynyard Browne (play)
Anatole de Grunwald
StarringRalph Richardson
Celia Johnson
Margaret Leighton
Music byMalcolm Arnold
CinematographyEdward Scaife
Edited byBert Bates
Distributed byBritish Lion Films
Release date
  • 22 December 1952 (1952-12-22) (UK)
  • 4 February 1954 (1954-02-04) (U.S.)
Running time
83 minutes (UK)
80 minutes (U.S.)
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£110,540 (UK)[1]


It is traditional for the widespread Gregory family to return home for Christmas at the parsonage in the remote village of Wyndenham in Norfolk. The film opens with introductions of each of member of the family save for younger daughter Margaret (Margaret Leighton), who is for much of the first half an unseen character. The plot centres on the situation of Jenny (Celia Johnson), who is housekeeper for her aged parent Martin (Ralph Richardson). He is the village parson and apparently cares much more about his parishioners than about his family. Jenny wishes to marry engineer David (John Gregson), who is bound for South America, but she cannot leave her father unless her sister or one of her aunts agrees to look after Martin.

Tensions arise after the family assembles. The catalyst is Martin's son Michael (Denholm Elliott), who is a national serviceman in the Army and has developed strong resentment towards his father and religion. Margaret arrives late and makes clear to Jenny that she has no intention of staying or of giving up her life as a magazine writer in London. It soon transpires that Margaret is an alcoholic and, in separate discussions with Jenny and Michael, she reveals that she has been an unmarried mother but that her four-year-old son has recently died of meningitis. That is why she has turned to alcohol. The underlying problem facing all three siblings is that they cannot approach their father about anything unconventional as they believe him to be a religious maniac who will not understand and will disapprove of their respective situations.

Regardless of their father's perceived feelings, Margaret and Michael decide they do not want to be with him and their two aunts on Christmas Eve and go out, ostensibly to the cinema. In fact, Margaret wants to go to the pub and they both end up drunk which results in a scene when they return to the house. On Christmas morning, Margaret announces that she is leaving immediately and Michael argues with Martin to the point of questioning the existence of God. Margaret has also become an atheist.

It turns out that Martin is not a tyrannical parent or religious fanatic after all. He is very understanding of their problems because he has helped people with similar issues throughout his career, but he is disappointed that they consider him unapproachable. All is resolved after Martin and Margaret have a heart-to-heart shortly before the Christmas morning service. Michael relents and says he will go to university, as Martin wishes, when he completes his national service. Margaret agrees to turn her back on the London life she secretly hates and will live with Martin so that Jenny can marry David and go to South America. The entire family is in harmony at church as the morning service begins.



According to the November 2009 Moviemail Catalogue, "Russian screen writer Anatole de Grunwald imbues this poignant adaptation of Wynward Browne's West End stage hit with Chekhov's spirit and relocates the Russian's genius for deftly drawn characters to a rambling Norfolk parsonage on Christmas Eve. [...] while The Holly and The Ivy now radiates a nostalgic glow, it is actually a revealing record of a country on the cusp of the dramatic social, economic and cultural change that has, sadly, made faith, fidelity and family feel like relics of a distant past." [3]


  1. Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p498
  2. "The Holly and the Ivy". Turner Classic Movies.
  3. P. Peters, Moviemail Catalogue, November 2009
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