Just Henry Review: Old School Christmas

JUST HENRY: Sunday 18th December, ITV1, 7pm

The jokes might be predictable, the toys might be simplistic and the hats rather flimsy, but as a package, the Christmas cracker works. You might say the same about this evening’s ITV drama special, Just Henry. An adaptation of Michelle Migorian’s novel of the same name; set in the years following the Second World War, it tells the story of young Henry Dodge, a boy struggling to come to terms with his father’s death and life with a new stepdad in his place. Undemanding, but warmly entertaining TV.

As a feud with the son of the man apparently responsible for killing his father continues, and his startling nightmares escalate, so does Henry’s obsession with the circumstances surrounding his dad’s passing. With a passion for photography – encouraged by the formidable teacher Mrs Beaumont (‘beautiful mountain’ in French if you happen to forget!) and a blossoming friendship with the adorable Grace – the boy’s world is torn apart when he receives a mysterious medal in the post. The drama continues when Henry takes a photograph accidentally revealing something even more sinister than he could have ever previously imagined….

Starring Josh Bolt as the lead (who you might recognise from the Lennon bio-flick Nowhere Boy) alongside a cast including the likes of Elaine Cassidy, Stephen Campbell Moor and Sheila Hancock, this is a dramatisation with a mix of nostalgia and mystery guaranteed to keep you watching. Saying that, it might not keep you guessing – I’m afraid it isn’t difficult to predict where the story goes and you’ll probably find yourself seeing each plot-turn before it comes – but this two-hour long film is an enjoyable and gentle watch nonetheless. It is well-acted, and in particular the performance of Sheila Hancock as the forthright and outspoken Grandmother reminds you what a fantastic actress she really is.

ITV commented to the press that Just Henry, with its ‘heart-warming script’ would be ‘a wonderful treat for the Christmas schedule’ and this description isn’t far-off. It does tick all the right boxes in terms of festive viewing; it is impressively nostalgic, and brings to life a post-War Britain from a more personal and youthful perspective than you might have seen before. Josh Bolt is suitably engaging as a young lad struggling to come to terms with the upheaval in his life, and young Charlie-May Clark is fresh-faced and likeable as Grace (and possibly one to watch out for in the future). It is also refreshing to enjoy a ninety minute film without the commitment needed for a two-parter or continuing series. Inevitably the adverts will be a right annoyance, but hey that’s what Sky+ is for…

There are perhaps superior things on telly this Christmas (and dare I say it, on rival channels) but Just Henry isn’t a bad offering from ITV. They needn’t worry all that much anyway… it goes without saying that the Downton Abbey Christmas Special will sweep all their rating worries away.