WHAT I LIKED: When 'Nativity,' starts, it appears to be perhaps the most glib and awkward attempt at a Christmas love story you've ever seen. A failed actor teaching primary school kids called Mr Maddens (Martin Freeman) reluctantly has to put on a nativity play which somehow ends up being the vehicle that's intended to reunite him with his estranged Hollywood girlfriend and best friend who happens to be the "rival," drama teacher at a nearby private school. But as the film goes on and he has to focus more on delivering on the promise of a great children's play for "Hollywood to come and see," it becomes less about him, and more about his pupils, and that's where the magic lies.
We see a hilarious montage of the comprehensive school kids auditioning their various talents, we see them going from timid to confident throughout rehearsals, we see them question their abilities and Mr Maddens giving them encouragement, and we even see them show incredible compassion to their struggling teacher when the pressure is on. Eventually, Mr Maddens forgets about his other worries to just deliver the show for the kids, and their inevitable final performance is as touching as it is hilarious.
The reason that's all so brilliant is partly because there are precious few on-screen depictions of kids of this age which accurately capture their hilarity and creativity, but this one does because it lends the kids themselves so much limelight and clearly allows the young stars to be themselves. Credit there has to go to Debbie Isitt and her team for obviously creating a comfortable set environment, but also the young people and the way Martin Freeman acts around them.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: You probably won't be that invested in the central character arc, not least because we only get about half a minute in every scene until we're whisked off to the next.
VERDICT: A lovely ode to the hilarity and creativity of primary age kids, 'Nativity,' may be clumsy, but it's an equally wonderful Christmas film.