Hark! The herald angels sing. Glory to the Thursday film.
Jesus is here! Let’s sing!
Paul Maddens is a drama school graduate and frustrated primary school teacher in Coventry. Five years ago, just before Christmas, his long-time girlfriend Jennifer left to be a producer in Hollywood; since then Paul has hated the holiday. After being drafted against his will to direct the school’s annual Nativity play, he finds himself the centre of attention for the entire city when a little white lie is overheard and spreads like wildfire. Can Paul and his ragtag bunch of misfits snatch victory from the jaws of humiliation by putting on the show to end all shows? Take a wild guess.
It must be a relief for Martin Freeman to know that if this whole acting thing hadn’t worked out he could have been a cracking primary school teacher. The star of The Hobbit here plays the teacher all of you wished you had had. The mostly-improvised nature of Debbie Isitt’s film (like her previous effort Confetti, from which a lot of the cast have returned) means that at times it feels more like a fly-on-the-wall documentary than a feature, particularly the scenes involving the kids. The benefit of not having a script to stick to shows up best in these moments, since the youngsters all manage to avoid that dreaded annoying child actor thing that often plagues movies with a miniature cast.
With its (adult) cast full of reliable British TV and comedy favourites, Nativity! gets the laughs but it also has a decent story, predictable though it may be. Freeman plays to his deadpan strengths as Paul, pulling out all the bemused expressions and reactions that helped make The Office and Sherlock the hits they have been. He also gets to show off a bit of his more emotional side in a handful of affecting moments. Comedian Marc Wootton channels his inner 8-year-old as Paul’s man-child teaching assistant, though he bears an unfortunately topical resemblance to an overweight Ian Watkins. Ashley Jensen is sorely underused as Jennifer, the love of Paul’s life. Of course she’s not the focus of the story, but I don’t care; I just want to see more of her.
Despite the whole “birth of Christ” thing, it’s fair to say that this is not a preachy film. Yes, the featured school is a Catholic school but the movie is just as much fun for a heathen like me as for anyone else. Nativity! (and yes, the exclamation mark has to be there) is solid entertainment for the whole family, particularly at this time of year. It has a very British sensibility to it though, so I wonder how well it would play in other countries. Thinking about it now, I really should have left this for Kids’ Film Friday, but aren’t all Christmas flicks meant to be family flicks?
All this Martin Freeman Hobbit business – is it too much to ask to just get another Hitchhiker movie??????????????
Unless you want to fund it yourself, yeah. Probably. I hate to be the bearer of bad news and all…