Home By Christmas
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 story of resilience, determination and love.
Ed Preston in his old age (Tony Barry) tells the story from the day in 1940, aged 28, he and his mates impetuously signed up after rugby practice, telling their wives later. His new wife, Tui (Chelsie Preston Crayford), was pregnant and distraught, but he told her not to worry, he’d be home by Christmas.
Young Ed (played by Martin Henderson) thought the war would be over by the time they got there and he’d be home in a few months with a Government loan to set up his new family. Then, the reality: the terror of his first bayonet charge, then capture by the Germans after three weeks on the Egyptian desert battlefield. Then he endured two tortuous years in prisoner-of-war camps in Italy and a further year in neutral Switzerland before he finally arrived home at Christmas 1944. Home, where he had to re-build his relationship with his young wife, Tui (Chelsie Preston Crayford) and get to know four-year-old Edward junior, the son he had never seen.
Inspired by her life-long quest for answers to the questions “What did you do in The War, Daddy? What did you do in The War, Mummy?” Preston wrote, directed and produced Home by Christmas as a unique blend of truth and fiction. She weaves drama and documentary elements around her interview with her father (realistically reconstructed with actor Tony Barry) into a heart-warming story of the survival of a marriage torn apart by the horrors of war.
Ed Preston, a laconic everyman-gone-to-war, lives through the extremes of battle, Italian prisoner of war camps, escape on foot over mountains into Switzerland and eventually returns to his homeland. While he is declared ‘missing in action: presumed dead’, his young wife, Tui, struggles with grief, loneliness and the hardship of bringing up their baby son alone. In a new twist on conventional war movies, we see the day-to-day heartbreak of Tui’s domestic life, as she waits with her mother and sisters for news from overseas, via telegram, hand-delivered by the local postman.
The story is told by Ed (Tony Barry) in the form of an interview with his daughter (Gaylene Preston appearing as herself), interlaced with flashbacks to his youth compellingly brought to life by Henderson and Preston Crayford, and illustrated with poignant use of family photographs, archival film footage and wartime photographs.
Gaylene Preston explains the title: “The film is called Home by Christmas because I don’t think any soldiers anywhere have ever gone off to war without thinking they’ll be home by Christmas. In my father’s case, he was, but four years later. He departed in 1940 and he arrived home on Christmas Eve, 1944.” Home by Christmas is written, directed and produced by Gaylene Preston, coproduced by Sue Rogers (Predicament, Forgotten Silver) and executive produced by Nigel Hutchinson (Goodbye Pork Pie). Financed by the New Zealand Film Commission, NZ on Air and The Wellington Company, the film is produced by Gaylene Preston Productions in association with Midnight Films and Motion Pictures and was distributed in New Zealand by Metropolis Films, with overseas sales handled by NZ Film. Cinematographer is Alun Bollinger (Perfect Strangers, Heavenly Creatures), editor Paul Sutorius (Bread and Roses, Ruby & Rata), the composer is Jan Preston (Illustrious Energy, Pictures), production designer is John Harding (Predicament, Until Proven Innocent) and costume designer Lesley Burkes-Harding (Predicament, Out of the Blue).