As incredibly sappy as it sounds, "The Christmas Box" and its prequel "Timepiece" are heartwarming. Now both are included on DVD, letting us into the bittersweet story of the Parker and the Evans families, from the 1940s to the 1990s.
In "The Christmas Box," the Evans family is interviewed by elderly, wealthy widow Mrs. Parkin (Maureen O'Hara) for a live-in status, since their apartment is too small for them now. To their surprise, they are brought in on a trial basis, and mom Keri (Annette O'Toole) and daughter Jenna (Kelsey Mulrooney) rapidly grow closer to the old woman. But Richard (Richard Thomas) is often busy -- so busy that he's almost never there for his family. But Mrs. Parkin's mysterious past, a cache of old letters, and a strange question lead him back to the first gift of Christmas.
"Timepiece" shifts back in time to the end of World War II. David Parkin (Kevin Kilner) is the owner of a successful, extremely busy company. He takes on a new secretary, Mary Anne Chandler (Naomi Watts), and begins to fall in love with her. But she has a secret: She's pregnant and unmarried. Undaunted, David marries her and they raise her daughter as their own. But when David's friend Lawrence (James Earl Jones) becomes the target of a gang's racism, something tragic will happen to the new family.
The films are rather different in tone, although both will probably leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling, especially during the Christmas season. "Christmas Box" is a Christmas movie with a touch of mystery (who are the letters to? And what happened in Mary Anne's past?), whereas "Timepiece" is a straightforward family/friends story with a touch of tragedy and Christmas. They both have some major differences from the original novels, but the spirit of them is still in there.
The acting is more or less spotless in both movies. Richard Thomas and Annette O'Toole are fantastic as the couple who bickers a bit, but love each other dearly; O'Hara is astounding as Mary Parkin in her old age. James Earl Jones (of "Star Wars" fame) and Naomi Watts (of "Ring" fame) are also wonderful in "Timepiece." The child actors are somewhat flat at times (especially the kid who plays Andrea) but they don't detract from the stories at all.
Tis the season to be mildly sentimental, which is why people watch "It's a Wonderful Life." For a couple of beautiful, lovable films with good acting and a bit of heartbreak and a dollop of romance, this is a must-have. Genuinely charming.