This is the all-time great, curl-up-on-the-sofa-with-a-cup-of-tea movie. Not only is it beautifully photographed, but it also contains enough emotional strength to hold your attention for all of its two-hour running time. And it's even better when watched on the big screen.
Originally released in 1946, this magical black-and-white Christmas fable is set in snowy, small-town America and follows the ambition-crushing, cash-strapped life of consummate pleasant fella George Bailey (Stewart). When Bailey is finally pushed over the edge by the machinations of a nefarious old banker (Barrymore) he decides to end it all, but is saved from suicide by his guardian angel, Clarence (Travers). Bailey's heavenly protector then shows the miserable hero what the town would have been like if he'd never been born, hoping to show that, despite all his problems, Bailey has made a difference to the world.
Capra's cleverly orchestrated images weave the upbeat ""no man is a failure who has friends"" message together with a darker, bleaker "life is always a struggle" thread. His bittersweet take on Christmas, the script and Stewart's perfect performance make an enjoyably syrupy, sentiment-dipped movie an unrivalled classic. ""Daddy, teacher says every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings"", says one of Stewart's cute little kids. And I defy you not to smile.