If you take a Christmas tree out of context, the thing itself is pretty ridiculous. Tinsel is gaudy and hideous, there’s always those four or five (or sixty) lights that don’t work for reasons physics cannot explain, and the decorations put in pride of place are the ones you made when you were six. Back when you weren’t sure how your hands worked. And yet, be honest, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Nativity!, for better or for worse, is that bloody tree. After all, nothing says ‘Christmas adornmant’ like a jauntily placed exclamation mark.
Twas The Night Before Christmas, And All Through Coventry…
There are so many reasons why this film shouldn’t be good. The plot, for a start, gets ridiculous pretty quickly, and can only rectify itself by getting a lot more ridiculous. The lack of Christmas demon Richard Curtis’ grip is evident, as the script seems more invented on the spot than neatly polished, and the children are not the massive eyed, symmetrically faced cherubim we are used to seeing on the big screen. But, (yes, that’s right), it’s because of this raggedy, ridiculous, everybody-in-then quality that this film is ace.
The premise is pretty simple- two rival primary schools put on a nativity every year, and the posh school always bags a five star review. When Mr Maddens (a brilliantly harrassed Martin Freeman) decides to up the ante by claiming that a Big Hollywood Producer is coming to see his school’s production, excitement breaks out throughout the stunning landscapes of Coventry. The only problem is, it’s a massive lie. What’s a teacher to do?
“Can I Be A Kink, Please?”
The real stars of this film are the hoardes of kids, as they manage to turn a dangerously saccharine subject (“oh Lord on high let me be cast as Mary in our play pleez”) into a down-to-earth primary school romp. The film’s loosely improvised style means that the real gems come from the kids themselves, rather than from greedy and cynical script-hounds.
Mr Maddens- “So why do you want to play the innkeeper, Bob?”
Bob- (looking earnest and six year old-y)- “He’s great, he just drinks all the time,”
Martin Freeman does an excellent job of keeping everything on track, and manages to guide the roaring heap of children to a grin-achingly lovely music-filled finale. There’s no Zach Efron type in sight, the kids sing like kids sing (ie looking a bit baffled and with lots of missing teeth) and if you don’t exit the theatre wanting to dance about in a moon-costume then frankly you’re missing the point.
Nativity! is one of those films where if you go into wanting to enjoy it, you’ll have a wonderful time. If you go in expecting Aren’t We All Bloody Clever, Actually then you’re taking it, and yourself, far too seriously. You probably get your tree ready decorated from John Lewis, don’t you? Come on, the rival teacher’s name is Gordon Shakespeare. What’s not to enjoy? Well humbug to you, see you with the gin at New Year. We’ll be dusting off our chipped and decaying Rudolph attempts from the bauble drawer, and hanging them with pride.