While initially a bit muddled, this low-key banquet of seasonal secrets from Germany is well worth getting together for.
This review of Holiday Secrets (Netflix) is spoiler-free. You can check out our thoughts on each of the three episodes by clicking these words, then clicking these ones, then finally clicking these ones.
Telling a story of women across three generations and three distinct time periods, and including a surprising number of peripheral characters, Holiday Secrets (Netflix) is, I suppose ironically, not a welcoming show in its first of three episodes. While it reunites sisters Vivi (Svenja Jung) and Lara (Leonie Benesch) with their estranged mother Sonja (Christiane Paul) and deathly ill grandmother Eva (Corinna Harfouch) in their remote family home on the German coast, it does so hurriedly and haphazardly. It flits back and forth between the present day, Christmas in 1989, where Eva still lives in the same house with her darkly funny but deteriorating mother Alma (Barbara Nüsse) and abusive husband Olaf (Hans-Uwe Bauer), and another Christmas in 2004, when Vivi and Lara were children (played by Lorna zu Solms and Tilda Jenkins, respectively) and Sonja was an alcoholic too scared and irresponsible to commit to them.
But I’d recommend persevering with Holiday Secrets Season 1, which improves in its second episode and comes together beautifully in its third, as the details of each time period and the younger and older versions of each character all come together in various clever and touching ways. It’s a low-key story free of bombast but rich in secrets and small, seemingly inconsequential detail, and it’s a pleasure to witness quite how each minor interaction forms one interlocking thread in a much greater, more complex storytelling tapestry. The cathartic unraveling of that tapestry in the final third is well worth the early efforts of trying to knit it together.
Impressively acted and — fancy this — respectably dubbed into English, any initial awkwardness soon gives way to well-written and distinct characters whose plights feel relatable and whose company is welcome. There are many surprises in the narrative, some more predictable than others, but all feel earned and sensible; this is the kind of show that it might be wise to return to, just to see how all the pieces fit cleverly together. I can’t imagine it’s the kind of thing that’ll set the streaming world alight this holiday season, but it’s well-worth getting together for if the mood strikes.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.