The same can’t be said for the rest of the principal performers – the instruction to them seems to have been: “Look oppressed.” They play their parts quietly, even meekly, and seem almost doomed to their fate, regardless of the miracles at hand.
That said, they are well cast in terms of looks. We’ve hardly ever seen such Hebrew-looking Hebrews, or Roman-looking Romans, or crackpot-looking wise men in a Hollywood movie.
Certainly Hardwicke’s humanistic, even secular, touches make this a watchable social saga. Consider a supposed virgin explaining to her parents, husband-to-be and community that she is, in fact, pregnant. And all she can say, truthfully, is that a slightly scary, unshaven angel (Alexander Siddig) has told her it was God’s will. Gabriel does look kinda menacing.
The journey to Bethlehem is given ample screen time, and presumably demonstrates that Joseph is a good man. His commitment, resolve and faith are brought into relief by this struggle, though his motivations remain a bit of mystery. This point in the movie runs the risk of being quite melodramatic, but it’s intercut with comic relief from the Three Wise Men, who ham it up to good effect at every opportunity. Not surprisingly, theirs is also the film’s ultimate emotional payoff, in the scene where the baby Jesus has been born.
Technically, Hardwicke’s scene-setting isn’t the strongest. The editing, especially in the film’s first half, is erratic and disjointed. It’s all you can do to try to ignore arbitrary shots of someone grinding corn (wasn’t corn foreign to Judea at the time?) or building a roof - which, as we’ve said, is all the villagers ever seem to be doing.
Even so, Hardwicke does deliver a film that just about skips the pitfalls of a story so steeped in Christian theology. It’s watchable from a non-Christian’s perspective, and doesn’t have the sense of pervading dogma that has coloured many similar projects. It’s not really geared to younger viewers, but it could be enjoyed by adults seeking that warm Christmas card feeling on a Sunday afternoon.
- Anton Marshall
Not a miraculous film, but a safe enough Christmas movie with a bit Roman tax collection thrown in.
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