Sometimes, a Christmas pop song is worth listening to. Sometimes, all that magic and sparkle is more than a seasonal M&S slogan. And sometimes, a sequel to a Christmas movie isnt quite as bad as you feared…
A TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS TRAVELOGUE
I’d deliberately avoided Nativity! (2009) because I feared a generic British ‘comedy’ full of tv stars who presumed their living room fame made them fit for the Big Screen. Alien Autopsy. Confetti. The Wedding Video I rest my case. What’s more, Hollywood churns out cheap festival-related fodder just like Clinton Cards, so why wouldn’t Brit cinema?
How wrong I was. I watched Nativity! (U) to gen up for its sequel. It turned out to be likeable, warm and laugh-out-loud funny (‘Herod: the Opera’ as a primary school production, anyone?). Teacher Martin Freeman is set the task of shepherding a bunch of unruly school kids to nativity play match-fitness at St Bernadette’s. Marc Wooten is his anarchic child-man Teaching Assistant, Ashley Jensen the love interest, and Pam Ferris the school head teacher. Backed by BBC Films, no wonder the film has the feel of Sunday teatime telly. But that’s no bad thing..
The criitcs disliked Nativity! but it did well at the box office. As it should have done. It is harmless, lighthearted family fare that isn’t too much of a trial for parents of under 12s to sit through too. Oh, and it’s dedicated to inspirational teachers everywhere.
More than one star shining brightly
Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger (U) was awarded one star by The Independent. Grinches. C’mon, guys, it’s not that bad, (It’s not Lesbian Vampire Killers, for one thing.) Debbie Isitt’s sequel takes place two years on. Martin Freeman has long gone but is yet to be replaced, for Marc Woolton’s wayward Mr Poppy is still causing havoc.
In steps new teacher, Donald Peterson (David Tennant) where others fear to tread. (Tennant also plays dastardly twin brother, Roderick).) It is early December, a nationwide ‘Song for Christmas’ competition has been announced, and the stage is set for competing school choirs to converge on Wales for the musical showdown.
A donkey trek to Warwick
Whereas Nativity centred on the city of Coventry, culminating in a children’s Christmas musical extravaganza in the grounds of the old cathedral, the breathtaking Welsh landscape is given a starring role here. (There is a tourist attraction feel about both films.)
A rather tortuous allegory, complete with donkey begins in the depths of the countryside and is played out to the film’s climax in a barn beside Warwick Castle. In between, there is a repeat of the X Factor auditions from the first film, with Jessica Hynes as a Charlottechurchalike compere.. The songs are clever parodies, and this section feels a show in itself. The theme of career disillusionment played out in Nativity! is replaced by that of family dynamics. The class struggle between schools introduced in the original is even closer-to-the-bone this time round.
An unforgotten baby
But this is a U certificate, so all manner of things shall be well. Given that St Bernadette’s happens to be a church school, and the film is called Nativity 2 one should not be surprised that the baby at the centre of it all is not forgotten.
This turns out to be a traditional Christmas card of a movie, then. There is slapstick, and a lot of laughs, but it is clear where its heart is. The sequel is not as tight or as entertaining for adults as the original, but, still, the eight children in the row in front clapped at the end.