Netflix had a dream, and that dream was to corner the market on Christmas Royalty Movies – or, at the very least, Christmas Movies. Every year they release at least one. Sometimes, they release so many more. While A Christmas Prince managed to release one film right after the other during the holiday seasons of 2017, ’18, and ’19, there was a brief gap for The Princess Switch trilogy. 2019 did not continue the story, though by then, an announcement had been made heralding a sequel. No, in 2019, another film came out, The Knight Before Christmas, which was intricately connected to A Christmas Prince when they mentioned the kingdom centered in that trilogy. That means, as of 2022, there are four Vanessa Hudgens’ running around, marrying up royalty and the like.
And I hope that this one gets a sequel like the others did.
What sets The Knight Before Christmas apart from A Christmas Prince and The Princess Switch is that magic is more focused on in the film. The others danced around whether or not magic was real and whether or not it had an impact on the film. The latter trilogy all but implied that Santa Clause brought the couples together, but I digress. The Knight Before Christmas involves a woman of magic Kayela (Ella Kenion), in 14th century England sending a young knight lost in the woods forward in time by centuries to modern-day Ohio. That Knight is actually a squire by the name of Cole Christopher Fredrick Lyons (played by Josh Whitehouse), and he is participating in an annual Hawking Competition. It is during this time that they establish how well he gets along with his brother, Sir Geoffrey (Harry Jarvis). They may only have a few seconds of screen time together, but it was enough to give some depth to the character before he was whisked away.
On the other hand, we have Brooke Winters (Vanessa Hudgens) as a teacher, who is introduced when she is speaking with one of her best students who turned in a rather lackluster and out-of-character grade on her midterms. She gets to the bottom of it with a kind, compassionate talking to and offers some advice that shows that love is not at the top of mind for her. To her, true love is a fantasy, displaying her realistic approach to life. When we see her taking her niece, Claire (Isabella Franca) to the Christmas festival, we learn the true reason – James, her ex-boyfriend, who has already moved on with the woman he cheated on Brooke with. Typical Christmas move ex-boyfriend nonsense.
Claire, believing in the magic of Christmas because of her young age, makes sure to ask for a real puppy but also a new boyfriend for her aunt – which will make you smile until you think of the deeper implications. Cole is already walking around, looking for the Crone that has sent him on a quest with no instructions, and Brooke literally runs into him, introducing the temporally displaced knight to his first modern amenity: Hot Chocolate.
Along for the ride is Emmanuelle Chriqui as Brooke’s older sister and Claire’s mother, Madison, who is rightfully concerned – who brings a strange man they just met with amnesia, claiming to be a 14th century knight, to their guest house, after all? But Madison is also trusting of her sister’s instincts, and if she believes that Cole is a good guy, then she will take a chance, too. After all, Brooke is seemingly more than just a little bit intrigued by this new mystery man in her life. Comprehending time travel as real is a difficult task for the main cast of this film. After all, as far as most people are aware, magic isn’t real. But, while Brooke begins to entertain the idea, it comes packaged with her burgeoning feelings for Cole and her ability to accept that love doesn’t have to be painful but enduring and enjoyable.
One of the cutest moments of the film is centered on a conversation between Brooke and Madison on this precise topic while they watch Cole and Claire through the window in a picturesque winter setting, play-sword fighting. It shows a touching kind of growth that would be obvious to everybody aware of how women were treated in the time that Cole comes from – objects to be desired and pursued, left to sit on the sidelines. However, Cole is going out of his way to teach Claire a valuable 14th century life skill. It might be “play-acting,” but the fact that he is teaching her, for a film, real techniques is evidence of his ability to look beyond his societal norms to those of a future where, while sword-fighting isn’t exactly in vogue, is critical to him.
Part of the charm of time travel films, especially when you have the benefit of critically understanding both periods (because you can research the past and live in the present when you hopefully set the main story), is showing the differences between the two eras. Cole wandering around a supermarket, going back and forth with Alexa, and binge-watching Netflix are all things that we take for granted, but are magical, mystical elements to somebody, where a central location with fresh food the world over, a device that knows all, and an entertainment package that would make one’s head spin are nowhere near the norm. Let alone possible.
The drama enters the film when Claire goes missing, and a snowstorm has whipped up, making locating her a difficult task for the police and Madison’s neighbors – but “super easy, barely an inconvenience,” for a trained wilderness tracker. How this all ties together, Cole’s quest, Brooke’s disillusionment with love, and even Madison’s sense of realism versus mysticism come together by the end, with love in all forms allowing the characters to grow, surrounded by the familiar accouterments of Christmas.
The Knight Before Christmas is not treading new ground, as few movies do these days, but that sense of familiarity is what makes this such a fun film. Magic aside, the theme of this film – looking beyond the past that’s been holding you back to the future that is bright, shiny, and full of possibility – is deep. Deep enough that they had a man from the past literally spring forward into a bright, shiny future that was full of possibility if its message was just a bit too subtle. Yet, that’s what endears this film, among the selection of Netflix Christmas fare, to me personally. It’s a fun, entertaining film, which makes it all the more annoying that it was the one that didn’t get a sequel.
Here’s hoping for a future adventure with Lady Brooke and Sir Cole one day.