THE DULLEST STORY EVER TOLD

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - Don­ald Clarke

THE NA­TIV­ITY STORY ★★ Di­rected by Catherine Hard­wicke. Star­ring Keisha Cas­tle-Hughes, Os­car Isaac, Hiam Ab­bass, Ciarán Hinds, Shohreh Agh­dashloo, Stan­ley Townsend PG cert, gen re­lease, 101 min

CATHERINE Hard­wicke, di­rec­tor of Thir­teen, that sear­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion of teenage break­down, has said that she was at­tracted to this project – which is ex­actly what its ti­tle im­plies – by the op­por­tu­nity to treat the Vir­gin Mary as an or­di­nary youth bear­ing a far from or­di­nary bur­den.

The records sug­gest that the sup­posed mother of Christ was no more than 16 when she made her fa­mous jour­ney, and the di­rec­tor has, ac­cord­ingly, cast a child in the role. Keisha CastleHughes, the star of Whale Rider, cer­tainly brings cal­low­ness to the role. But, rather than throw­ing out an­gry ado­les­cent sparks, she spends the film mop­ing about like a spoilt twit grounded for prang­ing her par­ents’ car. Wipe that scowl off your face, go out­side and kick a ball about, young lady!

The Kiwi’s age aside, there is not much else to set The Na­tiv­ity Story apart from those grimly pro­ce­dural Time-Life bib­li­cal dra­mas star­ring the likes of Michael York and Richard Cham­ber­lain. The lo­ca­tions – some in the Holy Land, oth­ers in Italy – have been cho­sen to ac­cu­rately repli­cate the vis­tas of an­cient times. The ac­tors, among them our own Stan­ley Townsend and Ciarán Hinds, work hard at mak­ing their over­pow­er­ingly iconic char­ac­ters hu­man. But noth­ing in the film comes close to repli­cat­ing the strik­ing nat­u­ral­ism of Pa­solini’s great The Gospel Ac­cord­ing to St Matthew or, for that mat­ter, the de­mented en­ergy of Mel’s The Pas­sion of The Christ.

All that said, the film works well enough as a devo­tional tool or an an­i­mated Christ­mas card. The clas­sic el­e­ments (Magi, shep­herds, an­gels, inns with no room) are all in place, and Hard­wicke re­sists the temp­ta­tion to sub­vert or politi­cise any of those old friends.

Still, if your lit­tle Jimmy, tea towel on head, is play­ing the shep­herd in the school gym­nasi- um this Christ­mas, that may prove the bet­ter op­tion.

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