When it comes to one-off family dramas for Christmas, two things are pretty much guaranteed. They’ll begin with credits announcing a starry cast, and they’ll end with a redeemed character gazing at some falling snow as the music swells.
The only tricky bit, then, is what should happen in-between. Should the redemption take place against a backdrop of vaguely gritty realism? Should plausibility be a consideration, or can the writers just rely on the magic of Christmas to get them out of any plot-related trouble? If Santa’s involved – as he so often is – should the show believe in Father Christmas?
In the case of The Heist Before Christmas – set in Northern Ireland – the respective answers are ‘up to a point’, ‘I’ll get back to you on that one’ and ‘er…’. Not surprisingly, the result is a programme that feels as if it’s assembled all the necessary elements but never decided how to put them together.
In one mild but rather interesting departure, the person in need of redemption here is not a grumpy old grown-up. Instead, 12-year-old Mikey (brilliantly played by non-starry newcomer Bamber Todd) immediately establishes his meanie credentials by burning down the school Christmas tree, spraying the words ‘Santa is dead’ on a wall as some Brownies walk past and unplugging the power from his town’s al fresco Christmas party. As his rampage continues – and the cries of ‘You little…’ from his victims intensify – we also see James Nesbitt in a Santa costume robbing a local bank. Finding himself cut off from his getaway car, the robber runs into the woods, seen by no one except Mikey.
At which point, we take a break for a spot of that gritty realism.