• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Sunday, January 08, 2012

    Nativity Scenes Revisited - Part 4: The Nativity (2010)

    In the absence of a significant Jesus film this year, the BBC version's of The Nativity remains the most recent portrayal of the events surrounding Jesus' birth. The first three half hour episodes I watched with the kids, but knowing the content was a little harsher in the final episode I watched that one alone.

    It's hard to really explain to a 5 year old and a three year old why "funny Joseph" as they had been calling him suddenly got scarily angry, but it speaks volumes of Andrew Buchan's performance that as an adult I could appreciate that his reaction wasn't as extreme as might be expected in the circumstances.

    The downsides were perhaps a little more obvious this time around. Whilst I still think this is one of the, if not the, best versions of the Nativity Story on film some of the things that make it good also rein it back from becoming great. Paramount in my thoughts here is the soap-operainess of the whole thing. On the plus side the characters are well rounded, and simply by making it a kind of soap opera a lot of the religious veneer is stripped away. It's unclear how special Mary and Joseph know they are. Weird things are happening to them, yet they are not being transported to another plain of reality - they remain the same people. But then at times it does just feel a little too like Eastenders. In a way that's no bad thing - Eastenders is a far better soap than most in the world as well as in this country - but there's nevertheless a tension between the side of me that likes to see religious fluff blown away, and the side that wants there to be some sense of gravity. Perhaps in the end it's just one or two moments that just take me out of things and make me feel I'm watching a soap opera, and, at the end of the day, I don't watch soap operas.

    It also feels a little over long. I'd be interested to see the film cut down to one ninety minute feature. I think it would benefit from being a little leaner. Part of the problem here is that gradually drawing the three threads alive requires each to be kept alive, but that the side stories never land as well as that of Mary and Joseph. That said some of the birthing footage would be amongst the first to go were I trying to chop half an hour out of the programme.

    What I do like about the final episode is the way Joseph is shown as returning to his ancestral home rather than, as is usually the case, just a random town. He still has family there, and it's there rejection of Mary, and Joseph's dislike at the way they treat her that sees the two of them stuck in a stable. Lastly the final few shots of this catch something of the otherness of this moment. Some films do it with soaring scores attempting to direct your emotions, other with lighting or dialogue. Here however, it's with quietness and humility. Suddenly it makes no sense that these Magi and these shepherds even, are on their knees worshipping a little baby. It's odd and yet there they remain rooted to the spot and aware of their own smallness in the presence of one smaller even than themselves.

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