Oscar Isaac and Keisha Castle-Hughes in The Nativity Story (2006)

The Christmas Story

It's a brave person who decides to make a movie about any bible story let alone one about the birth of Jesus as you are either going to get sneered at by non believers or end up upsetting believers who feel you have disrespected the story. But 2 years after Mel Gibson gave us his epic "The Passion of the Christ" we got another biblical movie with "The Nativity Story" which basically details the year up to the birth of Christ, the birth and then the massacre of the innocents as Herod realises that the Magi had not returned with news of the Messiah's birth. Now the thing is that visually "The Nativity Story" is impressive, this is a movie which looks spot on, from locations to costumes and certainly isn't some low budget movie. But it lacks something and that is the movie equivalent of charisma because whilst it tells one of the greatest stories ever told it never comes to life.

In a way "The Nativity Story" is a movie which feels like it is made for those who know their bible, I say this because whilst we have the story of Mary and Joseph, played by Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac, we have other aspects such as Mary's cousin Ruth (Farida Ouchani) miraculously conceiving as well as Herod's (Ciarn Hinds) fear of the prophecy. Maybe those who don't know their bible will find all these elements which you don't see in your average nativity story interesting but maybe also a bit confusing. But whilst you have these extra aspects the familiar story of Mary and Joseph is at the movies heart as you would expect and admittedly it makes a pleasant change to find a Christmas movie about the birth of Christ rather than Santa's son seeking a Mrs. Santa.

Ciarán Hinds as Herod in The Nativity Story (2006)

Now the thing about "The Nativity Story" is that it is a very respectful and restrained retelling of the birth of Christ, there is no sensationalism to spice it up or big star name to attract audiences. But in a way it is a bit too respectful because this straight retelling of the Nativity lacks life, we watch scenes unfold from Mary receiving the word of God to when Joseph and her parents discover that she is with child but they lack energy. I can understand why it is so restrained because to sensationalize this story would be wrong but still it is too restrained and it becomes a beautiful but lifeless walk through the nativity story, almost an educational movie.

Having said that the way it brings in other story elements such as Mary's cousin Ruth, Zechariah being struck dumb and Herod's fear of the prophecy is well worked. And in a sort of amusing way the characters of the Magi are portrayed as three bickering friends who wind each other up which is a nice touch. If only more of the movie had managed to find this sort of nice embellishment because then it could have stayed respectful but at the same time have some life to it.

Because "The Nativity Story" is very respectful it means we have extremely restrained performances from the actors most significantly Keisha Castle-Hughes who may portray Mary historically accurately but never feels likes she brings the character to life. It is the same through out from Ciarn Hinds as Herod to Oscar Isaac as Joseph with only Nadim Sawalha, Eriq Ebouaney and Stefan Kalipha making any impression because their characters of the Magi allow them to bring some life to things.

What this all boils down to is that "The Nativity Story" is on one hand impressive because not only does it look visually great but also because in many ways it is brave to be such a traditional movie. But unfortunately the story never comes to life because everything about it is too restrained and respectful.

Tags: Christmas Movies