Today I watched one of my favourite Christmas films, the nativity is brilliant in its madness and its liveliness and every time I watch it I can’t stop smiling, so this review is going to be mainly gushing although I tried to be cynical when I watched it, but I’m not sure how successful I was.
The story is about a teacher at a primary school (Mr Maddens) in Coventry, who is forced into doing the Christmas Nativity play and is given a new teaching assistant (Mr Poppy). When they go to get a Christmas tree, they bump into one of Mr Madden’s old drama school friends who runs the private school down the road and who always has the best school plays. While boasting to Mr Shakespeare, Paul says that is old girlfriend, Jennifer, who is now in Hollywood is coming to film the school play. Except Mr Poppy overhears and tells the whole school who tell the news and Paul Maddens has no way of getting out of it. Eventually Mr Maddens decides to go to America to speak to Jennifer personally as she’s not replied to any of his calls. Mr Poppy meets him at the airport with two children and permission for them to travel with Mr Maddens to LA. Once they get to Hollywood and the studios where Jennifer works they learn that she’s only a secretary and not a producer like they all thought and although they run into a producers office they are kicked out and go back to Coventry. When they get back to the school he goes into a meeting with the headmistress and discovers that Mr Poppy had filled in the forms himself, the headmistress learns that Hollywood was never coming to the school; she cancels the school play, fires Mr Poppy immediately, even though he’s her nephew, and Mr Maddens is also sacked although he is allowed to work until the holidays. Mr Madden decides to go out with a bang and do the Christmas play any way to keep the children happy. Halfway through the play when Mr Shakespeare walks onto the stage to tell the parents that Hollywood where never going to come, a helicopter appears and Jennifer and her boss is on it. At the end of the show the electricity dies and they sing the last song by candlelight before everyone takes a bow by showing their talent off while the rest of the class sing.
I love this film, I love the atmosphere and the songs, each of the children, the mad story line and the way it stays a Nativity film. It would have been very easy to make the play less about the birth of Jesus and more about them showing off. But they didn’t they made sure that the Nativity Play at the end was a proper Nativity and the last song sung around the manger in candle light is beautiful. It means it’s not just about a bunch of kids doing a play it is about the meaning of Christmas as well.
The songs are brilliant and catchy, although there are points where the kids hit the wrong notes, it’s not in the show it’s in the rehearsals and I’m happy to allow it, because in real life that is when you screw up. They may be slightly repetitive but that doesn’t stop them staying in your head all day, plus it also means that they are easy to pick up and sing around the house.
What is important about this film is it was written with only the plot in mind and a vague idea of where the scenes are going to go. Every line is improvised and by having many of the characters being children this leaves it with a sense of fun as the actors all have to react to whatever they said. They’ve gone on record for saying that to begin with the children were all well behaved for the first couple of weeks until they realised that the actors weren’t really teachers and therefore they were allowed to muck around and they wouldn’t get told off as badly as they would in school. The way they made this film makes it feel alive, and kudos to them for taking the risk to make a film with this much risk.
There are problems with this film, the main one being that Mr Poppy is the worst teaching assistant ever, you wouldn’t allow him to be responsible for one child let alone partial responsibility for a whole class of children. He doesn’t teach, he allows them to muck around and continually disrupts any form of lesson plans that Mr Poppy has. And he fakes a parents signature to allow Mr Madden to take two children to America, that’s essentially kidnap. He’s not a teacher or responsible and he is given a class to look after. WHY?
The story is also slightly mad, but you can allow that to pass because it’s just good fun.
Like I said at the beginning, I love this film and it never ceases to make me smile.
Favourite moment: The Nativity play at the end, full of songs and dancing and still about the birth of Jesus.
Best bit of acting: Martin Freeman, the whole way through.
See you tomorrow for the sequel, Danger in the Manger