THE DULLEST STORY EVER TOLD
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.