A true story of romance, secrets and terrible adventure in which Ed Preston, on his way home from rugby practice in 1940, joins the New Zealand Army to go to World War II. His new wife, Tui, is pregnant and distraught, but he tells her not to worry, he’ll be home by Christmas. And so he is – four years later – after escaping from a prison camp in Italy. But while Ed is away, Tui has fallen in love with another man. A remarkable memoir of resilience, determination and love.
A film memoir based on filmmaker Gaylene Preston’s interviews with her father about his World War II experiences, reconstructed with actor Tony Barry as Ed Preston. Weaving strands of poetic imagined drama, and archival footage into the interview, Preston presents both sides of her parents’ wartime marriage: the horror and hardship of battlefield and prison camp juxtaposed with the loneliness and grief of a young wife struggling with a newborn baby and a husband declared missing.
“I grew up after the War and when I was a little girl it felt like there were always three times: there was ‘before the War’ and ‘after the War’ and there was another time that was almost like a secret place called ‘during the War’. HOME BY CHRISTMAS is part of an investigation I’ve been making for a long time around that.” – Gaylene Preston
In her Award-winning 1995 documentary feature WAR STORIES Our Mothers Never Told Us (selected Venice, Toronto, Sundance film festivals), Gaylene Preston presented seven elderly women talking about their personal experiences during World War II . One was her mother, Tui, who told of bringing up her son while her husband was away, and of falling in love with another man during those lonely years.
Preston had earlier interviewed her father, Ed Preston, about his experiences while he was fighting in the New Zealand Armed Forces in North Africa and Italy. As her audiotape recorded his reminiscences in 1990, she didn't yet know her mother's secret, but being an inquisitive daughter, she nevertheless asked him some rather personal questions. How Ed dodged most of them is the basis for her latest feature film, HOME BY CHRISTMAS.
With warmth, humour and understated yet powerful emotional effect, Ed (played by Tony Barry) tells how he, with the rest of his rugby team, joined the New Zealand Army, expecting to be home by Christmas, ready to set up a good life for his family with his army rehabilitation loan. The reality was harsh: defeat in battle in the Egyptian desert, two years in Italian prisoner-of-war camps and a risky escape through the Alps into Switzerland, all the while missing his loving wife and the baby boy born after he left.
This is a film that tells it how the men tell it. Matter-of-factly, with few embellishments; with jokes that reveal the terrible truth about war from what is not spoken, and only hints at the secret places where love is. That territory in HOME BY CHRISTMAS is inhabited by Preston's imagined dramatic visualisations of her young parents (played by Martin Henderson and Chelsie Preston Crayford), who are coping as best they can – he incarcerated in prison camps in Italy and she with a marriage torn apart by war.
More than 70 years later, HOME BY CHRISTMAS reflects, in a unique blend of fact and fiction, the secret loves and enduring spirit that drove a generation.