Martin Freeman is lovelorn teacher Mr Maddens, a former am-dram star whose girlfriend (Ashley Jensen) dumped him over Christmas five years ago and upped sticks, inexplicably, to La-La Land. Yuletide cheer is not his forte, but he's forced to drum some up when Pam Ferris's headmistress earmarks him to direct the Nativity play.
As warm and as enchanting as a Whisky Mac. He's a failed actor, his girlfriend has left him and gone to make it big in America, and now, school teacher Paul Maddens has to direct the Nativity play. Worse still, after a little white bragging lie to an old rival, Maddens finds things escalating out of his control. Ah, the Christmas movie, a piece of work aimed at a certain market at a certain time of year. Many movies of Christmas past have been excruciatingly bad, either by losing sight of the holiday heart, or by going for a different angle at a season which is meant to be jolly. In the main then, the Crimble picture has been blighted by a train of thinking akin to damned if you do, damned if you don't. Debbie Isitt's Nativity! will not achieve any reviews proclaiming it to be refreshingly new, rightly so since it's a standard seasonal fare based story. What hopefully will be said is how utterly beguiling and warming the film is, so yeah! Basically a Christmas picture doing its job. Chiefly in its favour is that it has a naturalness to it that keeps its charm grounded. There's no miracle in the offering here, no boink over the head with a sledgehammer to enforce its message. Isitt is happy letting the film and its delightful characters go with the flow, the result ending up as being a fully involving experience. It helps too that the army of children (plucked from local auditions by Issitt) are adorable and funny in equal measure. Not that the adults come up short either. Martin Freeman (Maddens) gives a wonderfully controlled performance as the central character, while Marc Wooton as Mr. Poppy, a character showing the child in all us adults, almost steals the movie from the delightful moppet squad. It has its faults, such as a trip to America that quickly loses momentum, and if we are honest then surely the actual Nativity finale goes on a touch too long. But such missteps are easily forgiven given the impact as a whole. My cinema visiting group at Xmas 2009 consisted of 4 adults and 4 teenagers. As we filed out, there was a mixture of wet eyes and beaming smiles. So yeah! Job done for sure. 8/10 Footnotes: Xmas 2013. With a sequel hitting the theatres this Christmas I thought it time to revisit this film. Delighted to report that it still manages to warm the old cockles of my Xmas heart and remains a seasonal picture that I urge more folk to seek out. Xmas 2015. Rewatched, still lovely.