When Jonathan Bennett first received the script for “The Christmas House” his first thought was, “Who is my love? Who is my daughter? “
It’s an understandable instinct. After all, the project comes from the Hallmark Channel, whose annual “Countdown to Christmas” lineup of original films – a both lucrative and beloved seasonal mainstay – included 23 titles in 2019, none featuring a gay couple. (Vacation listings from previous years, both on Hallmark Channel and its sister network, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, were equally straightforward.)
As it turned out, Bennett’s love interest wasn’t a woman at all: instead, he’ll play half of the first gay couple featured in the network’s much-watched holiday lineup. “My jaw practically hit the ground,” he recalls. “And then I read the script, and I was in tears. I thought, is this really happening? It’s revolutionary.”
“The Christmas House,” which airs Sunday, is part of a bumper crop of queer vacation fare included this season, alongside Netflix’s “A New York Christmas Wedding” (now streaming), Hulu’s “Happiest Season” ( November 25), Lifetime’s “The Christmas Setup” (December 12) and Paramount Network’s “Dashing in December” (December 13). He debuted almost a year after Hallmark Channel shot ads for a wedding planning website featuring a same-sex couple kiss, then quickly rescinded the ban following public outcry. (This August, Hallmark included his first portrayal of a same-sex union in one of his original films.)
Michelle Vicary, executive vice president of programming and network advertising, told The Times by email that the film was written “to reflect the reality of countless families around the world” and “signals our commitment to expand our programming through modern storytelling in a way that allows everyone to share the Hallmark experience. We aim to produce programming that resonates in a powerful and emotional way and reflects the experiences of viewers from all cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, belief systems and lifestyles. ”
Notably, the LGBTQ portrayal in “The Christmas House” isn’t just about coming out, which has often – and rather lackluster – been the central tension of movies and TV series built around queer characters. The film centers on three pairs of characters who reunite for the holidays, including Bennett and Brad Harder as a married couple long accepted by their parents and siblings. In the first scene with the whole family, Bennett’s onscreen mom tells Harder’s character with a smile, “Did I tell you recently that you are my favorite son-in-law?
While Bennett and Harder weren’t the only protagonists of “The Christmas House” – the film is a set piece – this structure allowed director Michael Grossman to approach the couple as he would any other couple of films. Hallmark, rather than defining characters solely by their sexual orientation. “They are just people, they love each other, they are part of this family and they are loved, period,” Grossman said. “I thought it was a wonderful way to bring this topic into a space where it didn’t really exist before.”
Indeed, the couple is trying to adopt their first child. One scene shows Bennett’s character expressing his frustrations at the stressful process; Harder’s character comforts him with optimism about their future. And, of course, such a difficult conversation between spouses ends with a reassuring and romantic kiss.
“This scene is so beautiful and intimate because this couple have so much love for each other,” Harder said of the current shoot last fall. ” It was magical. We were honored to be able to make history and represent LGBTQ couples as in our personal lives. “
Afterward, Bennett recalled that members of the Vancouver film crew approached them with tears in their eyes. “They said, ‘Hey, thanks for doing that. We’re working on a lot of these Christmas movies, and for the first time, we also feel like family. ‘ “
The milestone will not be reached without its opponents, however. One Million Moms, the same conservative rights group that lobbied the network to withdraw advertising last year, has started a petition to have the film taken off the lineup and to boycott the company. ” as Hallmark pushes the LGBTQ agenda “.
Grossman – who’s gay, just like Bennett and Harder – understands where they’re coming from and hopes to meet some of those Hallmark fans halfway there. “Look, I know what the reputation of Hallmark Channel is and what a lot of people across the country expect from it,” he said. “I hope that a certain percentage of these people could just squint a little and learn something about people who are people and people who love each other. And that is not all they could imagine.
Additionally, “I understand that for some viewers the kiss definitely pushes them to a potential limit,” he added. “But, you know, sometimes the limits have to be pushed.”
“The Christmas house”
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Evaluation: TV-G (suitable for all ages)