Advent Movie #7: Nativity!
07 December 2018 16:18
BREAKING NEWS: Princess Charlotte just performed in her first ever nativity play, but did Wilcocks Nursery School’s production of this childhood rite of passage match St Bernadette’s Catholic School’s 2009 spectacular, directed by Mr Maddens (Martin Freeman) and Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton), in Debby Isitt’s Nativity!? Well, since I couldn’t make Charlotte’s stage debut, I can’t be certain, but if angel Gabriel didn’t have a quiff and make his entrance dangling from the tallest spire of a cathedral, then the answer is no.
As far as cosy Christmas comedies go, Nativity! is the full package. Mr Maddens is the film’s modern-day Scrooge, resentful of the festive season because it brings back memories of his ex-girlfriend, Jennifer (Ashley Jensen), breaking up with him. He’s an utterly miserable character who takes his heartbreak out on his primary school pupils – a perfectly cast gang of believable kids, lacking any Hollywood gloss – insisting that they’re useless and incapable of even the smallest achievements. But Christmas is coming and, much to his dismay, his class is selected by headteacher Mrs Bevans to put on the school’s annual nativity play.
This shouldn’t be too difficult a task for Mr Maddens, as we soon find out that he used to be a thespian, along with Jennifer and their friend-turned-rival, Mr Shakespeare (Jason Watkins). Since Jennifer left, however, Shakespeare has bagged himself a drama teacher job at the private school down the road, and every single year his yuletide production receives rave reviews from the local theatre critic, played by Alan Carr, whilst St Bernadette’s offering gets a shameful one star. Directing the school’s nativity play isn’t just an annoyance for Madden, it’s a down right embarrassment.
Enter Mr Poppy, an overgrown child, who also happens to be Mrs Bevans’s nephew, milking the fortunes of nepotism through his new role as Mr Maddens’s classroom assistant. Eager to schedule in extra playtimes and make crude jokes, the kids naturally love him, but to Maddens, this is just yet another inconvenience. When Poppy finds out the class are doing this year’s Christmas play, things really get out of hand. Thanks to his overzealous ambitions for the play and a few panicked lies from Madden, soon the whole town is convinced that St Bernadette’s festive extravaganza will be the greatest anyone has ever seen – so amazing, in fact, that a Hollywood producer is coming to watch it and then turn it into a movie. The children will all become stars! St Bernadette’s will shake off it’s dodgy reputation! Mr Shakespeare and his poncey private school can stuff it!
In real life, the kind of pickle that involves lying to an entire town and potentially damaging a school’s reputation irrevocably would cost people their jobs. But just when you think Madden and Poppy will have to start tidying up their CVs, some good old-fashioned movie magic swoops in and saves the day. The children are crushed when they find out that the Hollywood producer tale was a lie, not because they’re particularly bothered about making it big, but because their play has now been cancelled, and all they want to do is get on stage and perform it.
It takes some soppy and sentimental persuading, but soon Mr Maddens also decides that the show must go on. There’s some last-minute scrambling, a few reluctant costume changes and an inconvenient blackout, but after ten minutes of rushing around for candles and glitter, the lights go up, the kids take their places and tah dah! Mary and Joseph are on stage singing.
The show they put on is undoubtedly the best version of the nativity story the world has ever seen – made perfect by its imperfections. While the musical numbers are West End worthy – and have been capitalised on as such in a production currently led by Danny Dyer – the best moments are the ones taken straight from school plays up and down the country. Take, for instance, the boy sulking in a gold catsuit during the star of Bethlehem’s number, ‘Sparkle and Shine’. Even though the production is far-fetched, it’s details such as these, the behaviours of unpredictable children on stage, that make this film so realistic. We’ve all had to either wear a costume we hate, or sit through a slightly naff but adorable version of the nativity story at one point in our lives. But that’s Christmas and, although it might seem annoying at the time, Nativity! reminds us to treasure those moments.