The legal issues you missed in 7 of your favourite Christmas movies

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By Philippa Canfield on

The seemingly innocent Christmas films rife with criminal activity

We’ve been advised to stay at home for Christmas this year, so what better time to cosy up on the sofa in your new pyjamas, grab yourself a cup of tea (and a minced pie if you’re feeling extra festive) and enjoy a movie marathon!

You may have watched these films every year, but were you watching closely enough to spot these legal issues?

1. Home Alone

This all-time classic is full to the brim with criminal activity. For starters, how is it possible to have so many Home Alone movies yet zero prosecutions for child neglect?! Under state law in Illinois, child abandonment is a Class 4 felony, and so Mr and Mrs McCallister ought to have faced one to three years in State prison with a fine of up to $25,000.

Kevin himself is no saint, however, potentially facing one to four years in State prison under the federal Video Voyeurism Protection Act of 2004, after deciding to secretly video-record his Uncle Frank in the shower (not such a funny idea after all!)

Two years ago, The Secret Barrister laid out several criminal convictions Kevin might have faced under English and Welsh law in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, including multiple convictions for grievous bodily harm (GBH) — after all, surely setting fire to somebody’s head isn’t legal?

Presumably, this debate would boil down to whether Kevin was acting in self-defence (wouldn’t you have done the same if there were two men breaking into your house and trying to kidnap you?). The Secret Barrister claims, however, that Kevin could still be facing an “extended sentence of detention of 4 years plus” for “attempting to inflict grievous bodily harm with intent.”

For a full list of illegalities in Home Alone 2, see The Secret Barrister’s Twitter thread.

2. Love Actually

One of the favourite characters in this much-loved Christmas rom-com is the cranky and out-spoken popstar, Billy Mac. Don’t worry, he hasn’t been engaging in illegal activity per se (except maybe taking a lot of Class A drugs), but he may have been in breach of Ofcom’s guidelines for ‘Protecting the Under-Eighteens: Observing the watershed on television and music videos.’

It’s unlikely that Ofcom would have been happy to see him writing rude words on a poster of the band Blue for millions of children to see, never mind his questionable advice: “Don’t buy drugs kids… become a popstar and they give you them for free!”

And do we even need to mention the scene where he strips naked live on TV after his song reaches Christmas number 1?

3. The Snowman

This is a straight-forward case of child abduction under section 2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984. On the surface, this appears to be a sweet film about a little boy’s snowman coming to life and taking him to meet Father Christmas, however, it takes on a sinister meaning when you recall that this snowman didn’t seek parental consent before flying the child away into the night.

It’s a good job that snowman melted, or he could be facing up to six months in prison.

4. The Polar Express

Child abduction again (looks like this is a reoccurring theme!). Goodness knows how many children were on that train without parental consent.

That midnight adventure to the North Pole doesn’t seem like such a great idea now, does it?

5. Elf

Sorry to potentially ruin a family favourite, but Elf is another Christmas film marred by criminal activity.

The theme of child abduction continues; however, it is Santa who is the culprit this time. He may have unintentionally taken Buddy from the orphanage, but he was out of order when he failed to return him upon discovery. Moreover, surely the orphanage was in breach of its duty of care when they failed to file a missing person report?

Don’t feel too sorry for Buddy though, as he himself is in violation of the law when he decides to set up camp in the department store for a few days. Under the New York Criminal Trespass Laws, this would most likely only constitute a third-degree trespass (as the building is not a residential building), but would still see Buddy face a hefty fine and/or community service.

Not such a good elf after all, is he?

6. Nativity!

You may be surprised to see this one listed here — surely this is just a movie about a group of primary school kids putting on a school play? You would be wrong.

This film features a serious case of harassment, under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, when we see the teacher bombard his ex-girlfriend with multiple calls and messages, before flying out to Hollywood and turning up at her workplace with the sole purpose of forcing her film company into watching their nativity performance.

Perhaps Father Christmas should have brought Mr Maddens a restraining order for Christmas that year.

7. The Grinch

And finally, the list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the serial burglar, the Grinch.

Even if he did return all the presents in the end, it’s unlikely that he’d have been able to worm his way out of this one. That’s a maximum of 14 years for each “dwelling” he broke into and stole from, under section 3 of the Theft Act 1968.

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