In this family drama, a Christmas of long ago, one of togetherness, family entertainment, and memorable stories, is told through the eyes of a grandfather, relegated to his spare room. His memories compare with today’s Christmas with its packaged stories, distancing and electronic distractions.
Grandpa, a storyteller, at his grand children's request, recalls that time of family togetherness, in the not-so-distant past, before family and social networks of Christmas were displaced by televised packaged “Christmas specials,” video games and cell phones.
Although autobiographical, this story is everyone’s. It contains the boisterous comedy of childhood as the boy rushes with friends from house to house carol-singing. And the riotous yet poignant story of the “twp” (crazy) neighbors, Rose and Noel, standing in the street in their pajamas, howling carols. Besides them, naked in the snow, stands their two-year-old son. Unwilling to withstand the injustice, Bobby Lloyd, a neighbor, storms across to rescue the child--and all hell breaks loose.
It is the amusing story of the family’s annual pilgrimage to the home of Auntie Phyllis who covers all furniture with thick plastic in her endless battle with dust and little children with sticky fingers.
And finally, it is the boisterous and moving story of the family gatherings on Christmas Day evening at the home occupied by Grandma Elliott. The evening is filled with the raucous howls of inebriated adults, the squealing laughter of children, and the attempts, ranging from successful to unsuccessful, polished to tarnished, of individuals performing their annual party pieces. It is here the boy learns a painful truth of adulthood: this is to be Grandma Elliott's last Christmas.
Contained within ONCE THERE WERE STORIES is that moment, shared by all, when children move, barely noticing it, from childhood to adolescence. That moment when the giddy joy of childhood becomes tinged with sorrow and the realization that change eventually brings loss.
Official Selection to Wales International Film Festival, 2020
BACK TO LARGE LIVING ROOM. PAST. Auntie Bess stands in the centre of the room, tutu pulled up over her dress. Ballerina pose. Then she begins her totter across the room.
GRANDDAD (V.O.)(CONT.) Having drunk far too much, my Auntie Bess staggers across the room.
UNCLE ANFIELD Here it comes, everyone! Our Bess’ “dying swan” from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” Cheers. All sing “La, La” to the tune of “The Dying Swan.”
Auntie Bess dances erratically, but soulfully. A empty glass in one hand, a shred of lace in the other. GRANDDAD (O.C.) We watched as the swan rose and fell, rose and fell. . . As the swan continues, the group gets more restless.
ALL Rise and fall, rise and fall.
GRANDDAD (O.C.) And so the dance continued, and continued, and continued. The swan stumbles back and forth, rising and falling. ALL Rise and fall, rise and fall. Groans from the group.
GRANDDAD (O.C.) We were now about five minutes into its death before even the most inebriated of my aunts and uncles realised this swan was never going to die.
ALL Rise and fall, rise and fall. Fall, fall, fall. Fall, dammit, fall! Die, die, die, dammit, die! Auntie Bess finally collapses into a chair.