Brit Picks: “Nativity!” A Holiday Treat From Across The Pond

Written by Sarah Townsend January 02, 2012

“It’s something you won’t believe!  It’s the first time ever Christmas Eve!”


Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!  Okay, I’m a little late but I’m blaming it on the, until now, absence of snow.  “Nativity!” is another movie that never made it over to this side of the pond; a shame because it is one of the cutest modern Christmas movies that I’ve seen in a while.

In theatres in Britain in 2009, “Nativity!” centers on Paul Maddens (Martin Freeman, the future Bilbo Baggins), a former wannabe actor-turned primary school teacher at a rundown school, St. Bernadette’s.  His ex-actress, ex-girlfriend Jennifer (Ashley Jensen) left him at Christmas to become a Hollywood film producer 5 years prior, as he was preparing to propose to her.  Their other drama school colleague and friend Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) has gone on to be a successful teacher at the prestigious private school, Oakmoor, something which he never forgets to rub in Paul’s face. Basically, Paul is getting by, but it ain’t fun, and now he hates! Christmas.  What a Scrooge!

St. Bernadette’s head teacher Mrs. Bevans (Pam Ferris) makes Paul’s already sub-par life even more complicated as she volunteers him to be the director of this year’s nativity play while also sidling him with a useless, overgrown man-child of a classroom assistant, Mr. Poppy (Marc Wootton) to “help”.

Issues arise when Paul and Mr. Poppy bump into Gordon while out shopping for the classroom Christmas tree.  After putting up with one too many jibes about his own failures and Gordon’s bragging about Oakmoor’s always better nativity, Paul tells Gordon that he is still in touch with Jennifer and that Hollywood are coming to St. Bernadette’s to make a movie and even more hilariously, a book (didn’t the bible cover that?) of his nativity.  The well intentioned Mr. Poppy takes this as gospel and tells the school…followed by the entire town. Suddenly Paul Maddens finds himself directing the nativity while also desperately trying to either make his lie true or find a way out of it.

The auditions are going well...ish.

This movie is light, family entertainment with stars from shows such as “The Office”, “Being Human”, “Sherlock” and “Extras” for the adults to delight in.  The children are quite funny and very believable and as the children and Mr. Poppy remind Paul of how great Christmas can be, Paul begins to show the children that they can be more than people ever thought, regardless of which school they attend.  The St. Bernadette’s nativity is a musical and while it is apparent that some of the children have been musically trained, it is quite charming to hear several who are slightly off key, or whisper a line out of nervousness.  It feels real. Having watched this near the beginning of November, it was slightly embarrassing how long some of the songs stayed in my head for. After December 1st all bets were off and I was humming and singing away.

Martin Freeman is excellent as a man who lives a simple, but unhappy life.  Paul seems to have given up and Freeman plays this obviously kind but resigned and strained man quite well.  Throughout the shenanigans and chaos is the subplot of a man who is still so obviously in love with the woman he lost 5 years ago, that year after year his young students even still know about it. This subplot keeps the story grounded in something real and stops the comedy from becoming tedious farce.  It is needed, but it also allows Freeman to actually act and the audience likewise, to sympathise with him.

Field trip to watch a live birth. Perhaps not one of the brightest ideas.

“Nativity!” is a fun movie for people of any age.  It isn’t a thinker and it won’t change your life in any dramatic way but it will make you smile, sing, hum and fall in love with Christmas all over again. A sequel is expected to be released for Christmas 2012 and if it is anything like this then I can’t wait. I will definitely be watching this yearly from now on.

My Rating: 7.5/10


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About Sarah Townsend

Sarah Townsend

Sarah Townsend: Senior Television Editor of We Eat Films and writer of the Brit Picks column. A fourth year English and History student at UWO, future plans include travelling with the Doctor in his TARDIS whenever he finds me. I'm still waiting...

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