Holiday Hits: The McKenzie Sisters’ Festive Favorites

Davida McKenzie as Kitty in Silent Night / Thomasin McKenzie as Eloise in Last Night in Soho. 
Davida McKenzie as Kitty in Silent Night / Thomasin McKenzie as Eloise in Last Night in Soho

From Studio Ghibli classics and stop-motion delights to Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, acting sisters Thomasin and Davida McKenzie share their family holiday film favorites—along with tales of trespassing, homeschooling and the small matter of life and death.

Happy New Year to everyone who is scared and hurt. I hope we can all be strong.” —⁠Davida McKenzie

It’s been quite a year for McKenzie sisters Thomasin and Davida. Thomasin, who came to prominence in Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace, followed that with Taika Waititi’s Academy Award-winning Jojo Rabbit, starred this year in M. Night Shyamalan’s Old and Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, and finishes the year as the housemaid in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog. Coming next are leading roles in the BBC series Life After Life and Olivia Wilde’s next feature, Perfect.

Thomasin McKenzie chats with writer and director Jane Campion during a break in filming of The Power of the Dog.  — Photographer… Kirsty Griffin
Thomasin McKenzie chats with writer and director Jane Campion during a break in filming of The Power of the Dog Photographer… Kirsty Griffin

Meanwhile, Thomasin’s younger sister Davida made her debut this festive season in Camille Griffin’s decidedly anti-festive drama, Silent Night. Davida plays Kitty, a girl who just wants her sticky toffee pudding before the world ends, as a toxic cloud looms over the gathering her parents have dragged her along to.

The other children attending the apocalyptic Christmas party are played by the writer-director’s sons, Roman, Gilby and Hardy Griffin Davis, and there’s a familiar sibling dynamic of needling and teasing between the four of them, born from Davida having been homeschooled with the brothers while Roman and Thomasin were filming Jojo Rabbit.

The youngest of four McKenzie siblings, Thomasin and Davida are the next generation in a creative family famous in New Zealand for its work in film, television and theater. Parents Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie directed the 2017 Timothy Spall and Melanie Lynskey-starring teen witch drama The Changeover, which also featured Thomasin, along with Harcourt’s mother Kate. Harcourt herself is also a renowned actress and acting coach (she is regularly thanked from the awards podium by a certain Nicole Kidman).

Davida McKenzie as Kitty in Silent Night, anxiously awaiting the sticky date pudding. 
Davida McKenzie as Kitty in Silent Night, anxiously awaiting the sticky date pudding. 

Knowing that they hail from a family of cinephiles and culture addicts, we were curious about what the McKenzies enjoy watching in their holiday downtime. So, the sisters collaborated across an ocean—Davida at home in Wellington, Thomasin on set in the US, with their journalist sibling Peter also weighing in—and came up with a dozen movies ranging from comforting family favorites to more challenging titles impressed upon them by their parents. (Kurosawa for Christmas, anyone?)

Along the way, we got tales about Thomasin and her dad becoming late-night London trespassers, a misjudged grandparental screening of a devastating wartime meditation, and a small matter of life and death.

My Neighbor Totoro

Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Thomasin McKenzie: At the top of our list has to be our all-time, most watched, best loved film, My Neighbor Totoro. This film has had such an impact on our lives. It always seems to have been playing on the screen at home, through birthday parties, Christmases, sunny days, rainy days and any time we needed calm and comfort.

It is closely followed in the love stakes by Hayao Miyazaki’s other films like Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke or Howl’s Moving Castle. Davida and I also love Spirited Away. But our brother Peter absolutely hates that film. Freaked him out. Spoiler alert: mum and dad turn into pigs.

Grave of the Fireflies

Written and directed by Isao Takahata, from the short story by Akiyuki Nosaka

TM: Talking of Studio Ghibli animated films, this one was a complete watching disaster! This was before Davy was born. Mum and Dad left Peter and me in the care of our grandparents with the suggestion to play a Miyazaki film before bed. Our grandparents put their hands on the DVD of Grave of the Fireflies. Despite the pretty cover, the film is about the fire-bombing of the Japanese city of Kobe in the final months of World War II—and the harrowing and doomed struggle to survive of siblings Seita and Setsuko. When Mum and Dad came home we were all completely traumatized. It is a brilliant film. Not when you’re six…

Coraline

Written and directed by Henry Selick, from the novella by Neil Gaiman

Davida McKenzie: Coraline scared me when I was a little girl, but now I love watching it, and listening to the scary music.

Notting Hill

Directed by Roger Michell, written by Richard Curtis

TM: Our dad Stuart loves this movie. We must have watched it twenty times. When we were living in London while I was filming Last Night in Soho, we went on an expedition to find Rosmead Garden (a gated garden, private to the residents of Ladbroke Estate), which Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant break into on a romantic night out. We tried to climb over the fence, but got caught on the wrought-iron spikes. Whoopsy-daisy!

It must drive the people who live there crazy, all the film nerds pinned to their fence in the morning. Actually, Richard Curtis, who wrote Notting Hill, Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral was born in Wellington, New Zealand, which is funny because these are kinda classic British films.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Directed by Henry Selick, written by Caroline Thompson, adapted by Michael McDowell from a story by Tim Burton

DM: I love the mix between Christmas and Hallowe’en in The Nightmare Before Christmas. When you watch movies again and again every holiday you get to see how much you’ve grown up from last time. I wonder if people will watch Silent Night like that!

Elf

Directed by Jon Favreau, written by David Berenbaum

TM: This is our brother Peter’s pick. Maybe he just loves Zooey Deschanel? But again, every New Zealand summer this wintery classic lights up our screens.

Throne of Blood

Directed by Akira Kurosawa, written by Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryūzō Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa and Hideo Oguni, from the play by William Shakespeare

TM: This is Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s spin on Macbeth. Our parents are always keen to show us diverse and interesting films. Although, once again, not necessarily age-appropriate. This film stands in for all the other films our parents have played for us to open our eyes to a big, wide world we’re not the center of.

Dad showed me and Pete Throne of Blood when we weren’t much older than our Grave of the Fireflies selves. We didn’t understand it. Long, boring stretches of misty, brooding silence. And then suddenly a rain of deadly arrows and Macbeth is staggering round like a porcupine. At Christmas time, Dad will sometimes joke, “Okay, who wants to watch Throne of Blood?”

The Grinch

Directed by Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney, written by Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow, from the book by Dr. Seuss

TM: Of course. Every year. Every version. Davida loves this film, don’t you Davy!

DM: Yes, Tom is right, I love The Grinch. I love it because it’s funny and whenever I watch it, it really feels like Christmas. I love how funny it is!

Home Alone

Directed by Chris Columbus, written by John Hughes

DM: The most recent Home Alone stars Archie Yates who was in Jojo Rabbit with Thomasin alongside Roman Griffin Davis. And now I am in a Christmas movie with Roman! It is funny that Roman, Archie, me and Roman’s brothers Hardy and Gilby all did homeschooling together in Prague while they were shooting Jojo Rabbit. Then we were together again in the classroom in England for Silent Night. We have the box set at home of all the Home Alone movies and I love them all. Good on you, Archie!

Winter’s Bone

Directed by Debra Granik, written by Granik and Anne Rosellini, based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell

TMWinter’s Bone, directed by Debra Granik, I completely love. We went on holiday after I shot Consent: The Louise Nicholas Story when I was only thirteen. Mum and Dad said, “Good on you for making that film, it’s an important story and the world needs those. We think you should see this film Winter’s Bone, it’s another important story by a remarkable filmmaker.” Three weeks later I got a request from my agent to record a self-tape for Debra Granik’s next film Leave No Trace. I got the part! The world is connected in ways we can’t even begin to understand.

Jojo Rabbit

Written and directed by Taika Waititi, from the book by Christine Leunens

DM: Jojo Rabbit is one of my favorite films. I will watch it again over Christmas! I love the scenes between Thomasin and Roman because they’re emotional and it’s funny that despite his prejudiced little Nazi, Jojo falls in love with Elsa the Jewish girl. I am proud of my sister Tom for playing this role. Her character Elsa was scared and hurt, but also very strong. Happy New Year to everyone who is scared and hurt, I hope we can all be strong.

Silent Night

Written and directed by Camille Griffin

DM: I’m also going to say Silent Night even though I’m in it, so maybe that’s not allowed. Oh well. I think it is an important film because it asks us all to wake up about what’s happening to the planet. It’s life and death. And everyone—yes, even in rich countries—has to make sacrifices.

I loved making Silent Night because I made it with my friends and then made some new friends too. I felt good that director Cami asked me to be in it, ’cos I think she is trying hard to make a film that will make people laugh then cry then jump into action.

Go! Happy Christmas and a happy New World!


Silent Night’ is in theaters now. ‘The Power of the Dog’ is streaming on Netflix. ‘Last Night in Soho’ is available to rent on demand.

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