The Holly and the Ivy
Original Australian film poster
Directed byGeorge More O'Ferrall
Written byWynyard Browne
Anatole de Grunwald
Based onThe Holly and the Ivy
1950 play
by Wynyard Browne
Produced byAnatole de Grunwald
StarringRalph Richardson
Celia Johnson
Margaret Leighton
CinematographyEdward Scaife
Edited byBert Bates
Music byMalcolm Arnold
Color processBlack and white
Distributed byBritish Lion Films
Release dates
  • 22 December 1952 (1952-12-22) (UK)
  • 4 February 1954 (1954-02-04) (U.S.)
Running time
83 minutes (UK)[a]
80 minutes (U.S.)
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£110,540 (UK)[3]

The Holly and the Ivy is a 1952 British drama film directed by George More O'Ferrall and starring Ralph Richardson, Celia Johnson, and Margaret Leighton.[4] It was adapted from the 1950 play of the same name by Wynyard Browne.[5] Produced by Anatole de Grunwald and co-scripted by Browne and de Grunwald it was distributed by British Lion Films, and released in the United States in 1954 by the independent Pacemaker Pictures. An Irish clergyman whose neglect of his grown offspring, in his zeal to tend to his parishioners, comes to the surface at a Christmas family gathering.

Actresses Margaret Halstan and Maureen Delany reprised their roles from the stage.[6]


It is traditional for the widespread Gregory family to return home for Christmas at the parsonage in the remote village of Wyndenham in rural Norfolk. The film opens with introductions of each of member of the family save for younger, fashionista daughter Margaret, who is for much of the first half an unseen character. The plot centres on the situation of Jenny, who is housekeeper for her aged parent Martin. He is the village parson and apparently cares much more about his parishioners than his family. Jenny wishes to marry engineer David, who is bound for South America for five years, 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, who has developed strong resentment towards religion and his father's plans to send him to university after he has completed his national service in the Royal Artillery. 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 becoming 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, driving her into her present reliance on alcohol. The underlying problem facing all three siblings is that they cannot approach their father about anything unconventional, as they believe him to be uptightly religious and more likely to disapprove of their respective situations than to show kindness and understanding.

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 emerges that Martin is not a tyrannical parent or judgmentally religious after all. He is very understanding of their problems because he has helped people with similar issues throughout his career and even wrestled with similar ones on the way to discovering his religious vocation. In individual heart-to-hearts with Michael and Margaret just before the Christmas morning service, he also expresses his regret and disappointment that they consider him unapproachable. All is thus resolved, with Michael relenting over university and Margaret agreeing to turn her back on the London life she secretly hates to live with Martin, which will allow Jenny to marry David and go to South America. The entire family is in harmony at church as the morning service begins.



The film was shot at Shepperton Studios outside London with sets designed by the art director Vincent Korda.

Critical reception

The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote:

In the manner already familiar from Home at Seven [1952] another play has been transferred literally to the screen, with the minimum recognition of the differences between the two media. The whole presentation seems considerably more suited to television than to the cinema and, as has been pointed out before, such methods show up most cruelly any shortcomings in the play. The Holly and the Ivy seems particularly unsuitable: its dramatic conflict is a matter of a misunderstanding which, since the characters are scarcely explored, remains artificial, and it depends entirely on dialogue. In the circumstances, everything hangs on the playing, but the all star cast employed – Roland Culver, for instance, has a one line part – fail to come together or to suggest a plausible family. Ralph Richardson, looking altogether too robust for his relations' anxiety to appear likely, employs a variety of stage mannerisms (his first entrance, in particular, is purely of the stage), Celia Johnson gives the impression, whether intentional or not, that the self-sacrificing daughter rather enjoys her martyrdom and Denholm Elliott and Margaret Leighton have to contrive emotional crises out of the thinnest material. Filmed theatre demands (cf. Les Parents Terribles) the most disciplined and meticulous technique; this type of direct translation to the screen, using none of the cinema's resources, can only do harm to the play itself.[7]

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."[8]

See also


  1. ^ As of 2019 release of Blu-ray from StudioCanal UK (and also the one from Kino Lorber in US) runs about 80 mins, 2 scenes are missing.[1][2]


  1. ^ ""Re: Great Movies No One's Seen: The Holly and The Ivy" at NitrateVille".
  2. ^ ""Fingers crossed it's not cut" in user review at".
  3. ^ Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p498
  4. ^ "The Holly and the Ivy". British Film Institute Collections Search. Retrieved 24 December 2023.
  5. ^ French, Philip. "The Holly and the Ivy", The Guardian, October 11, 2009
  6. ^ "The Holly and the Ivy". Turner Classic Movies.
  7. ^ "The Holly and the Ivy". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 19 (216): 138. 1 January 1952 – via ProQuest.
  8. ^ P. Peters, Moviemail Catalogue, November 2009