Kindred spirits: books, music, art and more about seeing family

From an unconventional depiction of maternal holiness to weird, festive murder-thrillers, our critics select culture for coping with the clan


As leader of 2010s indie outfit the Maccabees, Orlando Weeks’s trembly, distinctive vocals marked him out as an unusually tender frontman. His 2020 solo debut A Quickening wears this sentimentality even more proudly, immortalising the joys and nerves of first-time parenthood. Set to atmospheric piano, sleepless nights collide with twinkling milestones, all giddy and endearing in its love for this new family unit. “You’re so new I / Still forget sometimes / That I’ve got you” he sing-sighs on Milk Breath, the gentle swell of horns capturing an intoxicating sense of wonder and pride. It’s not technically a Christmas album, but as a noted Raymond Briggs enthusiast, there is a warm, ruddy-cheeked cosiness to Weeks’s work that always feels like walking in the air. Jenessa Williams


Buenos Diaz … With Love.
Buenos Diaz … With Love. Photograph: Kevin Estrada/Amazon Prime Video

Where the mid-budget romantic comedy may typically draw cynicism and mockery, With Love is disarming in its warmth and humour. The show is structured around a series of seasonal holidays where, over five episodes, the Diaz family’s romantic and familial relations are pushed through Christmas, new year, Valentine’s, Independence Day, and the traditional Mexican Day of the Dead, with each holiday imbuing the episode with some kind of emotional or spiritual resonance. Boyfriends are brought home for the first time, family friends become lovers and then friends again, fathers and sons have difficult conversations, cousins call each other out on being problematic. It’s everything you dread about being reunited with family, but everything you love, too. Jason Okundaye


The Burlington House Cartoon
The Da Vinci load … The Burlington House Cartoon’s family unit. Photograph: The National Gallery

Leonardo da Vinci’s vision of family life is fatherless and feminist. It was common to give Joseph a humble role in Renaissance paintings of the holy family but in The Burlington House Cartoon, this unfinished work Leonardo goes further and eradicates him completely. He creates a female-run setup with Mary and her mother, Anne. The boys are also in an unusual family grouping for the infant John the Baptist is shown with baby Jesus, like a brother. The subversive imagery did this design no harm. It drew huge crowds to a church in Florence. They came to see an intimate glimpse of family love that has the enigmatic power of a dream. Jonathan Jones


Little Women: Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women opens with the threat of a dreary Christmas. The father of Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy March is away serving in the Union army in the American civil war and money is tight. Their mother has proposed “not having any presents … because it is going to be a hard winter.” Instead, the four March sisters get copies of the Bible. Worse still, the creeps act as if they’re pleased with them. Then they give away their breakfasts to some even poorer neighbour kids and also act glad about having bread and water instead. But from these unpromising beginnings emerge four of the most enduring characters in literature, who turn out to be as strong, wilful and funny as they are prim and pious. It is a family that has delighted and inspired generations. Sam Jordison


Richard Whorf, Gene Kelly and Deanna Durbin in Christmas Holiday.
On noir way home … Richard Whorf, Gene Kelly and Deanna Durbin in Christmas Holiday. Photograph: Universal/Allstar

When it comes to family films, or coming-home-for-Christmas films, the 1944 cult noir classic Christmas Holiday starring Gene Kelly and Deanna Durbin is hard to beat for weirdness. A depressed army officer is travelling home for Christmas and bad weather forces him to make a stopover in New Orleans on Christmas Eve. At a sleazy club he meets a depressed hostess, played by Durbin, who pours her heart out to him. She is married to a man she has just discovered to be a convicted murderer: a very atypical role for lovable Gene Kelly. And this couple’s married life together is shown in flashback sections; a life made more creepy due to living with his overbearing mother who kept her son’s violent past a secret from the bride. It builds to a dramatic climax in the present – that is, Christmas Day. Peter Bradshaw

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