The Christmas Wife

Last updated
The Christmas Wife
Based onA short story
by Helen Norris
Screenplay by Catherine Ann Jones
Directed by David Jones
Theme music composer Max Harris
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
Executive producers Colin Callender
Eric Landau
Producers Patrick Whitley
Edie Landau
Catherine Ann Jones (associate producer)
Production location Toronto
CinematographyBrian West
EditorRuth Foster
Running time73 minutes
Production companyHBO Showcase
Distributor HBO Pictures
Original network HBO
Picture formatColor
Audio format Stereo
Original release
  • December 12, 1988 (1988-12-12)

The Christmas Wife is a 1988 American drama film directed by David Jones and written by Catherine Ann Jones. [1] It stars Jason Robards, Julie Harris, Don Francks, James Eckhouse, Patricia Hamilton and Deborah Grover. [1] The film premiered on HBO on December 12, 1988. [2] [3] [4]



John Tanner (Robards), a retired architect who is recently widowed, decides to look for a platonic lady companion for the Christmas period at his lakeside cabin (as he always had with his deceased wife), instead of flying out west to see his son and his family. He meets a "social arranger" (Francks) who introduces him to a woman of about his own age, Iris (Harris). They meet at a hotel lobby/plaza in town and she tells him she would like to go ahead, but that they should meet later at the local bus depot before departing for the holiday. She is insistent that he does not ask her any personal questions.

They go to a cabin in the countryside where he had spent many previous Christmases with his wife. After an uneasy start Iris reveals that she used to be a nurse but most of the time she is non-committal. John gives Iris a Christmas present of a music box which she seems very touched by. They take a walk in the woods then return to the cabin where he tells her that he used to play the tiple at Christmas. When Iris presses him he produces a tiple and plays it while he sings a song. She recites a poem by Dorothy Parker which he applauds her for. She then tells him that she is not being honest with him but not why; she also tells him that it is time he "let go" of his wife; they hug.

Later during the night John is woken from his sleep by the sound of the music box. He goes downstairs to find Iris listening to it. In silence he takes her hand and leads her back upstairs where they look wistfully at each other before going to their separate rooms.

The following morning he rises to find that Iris has cooked breakfast and is preparing to leave. John becomes exasperated at Iris's incommunicative nature and demands to know more about her. She reveals that she is married and John deduces that the social arranger is her husband. She had agreed to meet John only for the $500 agency fee – business was poor at that time of year and they needed the money.

John and Iris part company. Another day, he goes to his usual cafe with a book, where he notices a woman (Helen Frost) that he had seen before, also with a book. He asks the waitress if the woman would tell her about the book she is reading. When the waitress returns she says to him "She says she'll trade ya". John and the woman exchange smiles...


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  1. 1 2 "The Christmas Wife". Turner Classic Movies . Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved July 20, 2016.
  2. Jarvis, Jeff (2015-01-26). "Picks and Pans Review: The Christmas Wife". Retrieved 2016-01-26.
  3. Sandra Brennan (2015). "The-Christmas-Wife - Trailer - Cast - Showtimes". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times . Baseline & All Movie Guide. Archived from the original on 2015-12-17. Retrieved 2016-01-26.
  4. "Christmas Wife, The (1988) - Overview". 2008-12-24. Retrieved 2016-01-26.