So, yesterday was a truely magnificent film, as 1914’s Christmas truce was played out in Joyeux Noel. Today, a modern tradition takes centre stage as we have a look at the joyous nativity play. Ah… memories.
And today it’s…
15th November, Day 16
Nativity! (Debbie Isitt, 2009)
Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger (Debbie Isitt, 2012)
Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey? (Debbie Isitt, 2014)
Paul Maddens (Martin Freeman), Jennifer Lore (Ashley Jansen), and Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) are three actors stuck playing elves at drama school. They swear they are going to get the lead role eventually, otherwise they will give up and become teachers.
Years later, Jennifer has dumped Paul and moved over to America to follow her dream, while Gordon is drama teacher at Oakmoor, a prestigious private school, getting 5 star reviews every year for his nativity plays. Paul (orr Mr Madden) is working at St Bernadette’s, the poor relation to Oakmoor, and is asked to put on the nativity play by headmistress Mrs Beavan (the ever excellent Pam Ferris). She also gives him a new teaching assistant, Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton), and excitable, innocent man-child. When Paul runs into Gordon, he responds to his jibes by lying that a big Hollywood producer is coming to watch his Nativity play, with Jennifer involved as well. Unfortunately for Paul, his little white lie is overheard by Mr Poppy, who whips the children – and then the entire school – into a frenzy with stories of Hollywood glory for them. Unable to disappoint the children, Paul goes along with the lie, and the two set about arranging a Nativity play the likes of which have never been seen… in Coventry at least. Can Paul stand Mr Poppy for long enough to make it to Christmas? And what will happen when the truth comes out about the reality of his Hollywood dreams?
Nativity! has improvised performances from the children (similar to the BBC sitcom Outnumbered), and the kids are just so damn charming that they carry the film well into enjoyable territory. Freeman is brilliant and really does give a much better performance than the film probably deserves (without trying to sound terribly… snooty), and Wootton’s big kid act is just restrained enough to not get too annoying. Jason Watkin’s Gordon Shakespeare is fantastic as well, pushing the pompous, self-important school master act to the extreme. And if you saw him in the recent series of Would I Lie To You?, he walks on his hands here!
Overall, I give this
Not one of the very best Christmas films, but charming enough to make it worth while.
And now, onto the sequel! With Mr Madden having moved to America to be with Jennifer (oops, spoilers!), Mr Poppy (Wootton again) is teaching the class alone, having scared away a series of replacements. He is also determined to enter the Song for Christmas competition, which will give them the chance to record the Christmas number 1 and win £10,000. Mrs Beavan won’t allow it though, and finally manages to get a permanent teacher – Donald Peterson (David Tennant). Donald is about to become a father for the first time, and has just moved to the area with his heavily pregnant wife (Joanna Page of Gavin and Stacey and Love Actually, where ironically she had a storyline with Nativity! star Martin Freeman). His domineering father (Ian McNiece) arrives to spend Christmas with them, lambasting Donald for not being as succesful as his twin brother Roderick (also Tennant, brilliantly heeling it up). Roderick is also entering the Song for Christmas competition, and eventually Mr Poppy tricks him to sign the entry forms for the competition.
St Bernadette’s set off to Wales for the competition, with Mr Poppy kidnapping Donald to get him to come. With Oakmoor also heading to Wales, a bit of sabotage from Mr Shakespeare (Watkins in marvellous form again) leads to St Bernadette’s getting lost, and having to try to get to the venue on foot. Out of phone range, with a heavily pregnant wife missing him, and having somehow acquired a donkey and a baby on the trip, can Donald and Mr Poppy make it to the Song for Christmas competition?
The sequel adds more kids to the mix, and again, they are all very entertaining. Tennant is great in his two roles, but the film is almost totally stolen by Jessica Hynes’s ridiculous competition compere Angel Matthews. The songs are toe-tapping, (one about “all I want for Christmas is stuff” is actually very funny) and Roderick’s choir is fantastically over the top in its precision and seriousness. The film actually suffers from trying to break new ground though. I suppose director Issit should be commended, she could have basically remade the first film with a new lead actor and few would have complained. But the school kids wandering around Wales gets very tedious, and it is very hard to suspend disbelief that it wouldn’t be an incredibly dangerous and miserable experience for all involved.
That is only one portion of the film though, and Tennant and co are good enough to make up for the lack of time the kids get just being kids.
Overall, I give this:
Not quite as good as the first, but not terrible.
And then, we end the trilogy. Mr Peterson has moved on, and Mrs Beavan has been replaced by Mrs Keen (Celia Imrie). St Bernadette’s is due for an Ofsted inspection, so like any sane human being, Mrs Keen fires Mr Poppy. His obsession this time around is with flashmobs (are they still a thing?), and the chance to perform in New York on top of the Empire State Building.
Mr Shepherd (Martin Clunes) goes to St Bernadette’s with his daughter, and then gets kicked in the head by Mr Poppy’s donkey, and loses his memory. This is particularly terrible news as Shepherd is about to marry Sophie (Catherine Tate), and she is in New York preparing for the wedding. Her ex is Bradley Finch (Adam Garcia), a flash mob expert, who is organising the competition that will send is winners to New York. In an attempt to bring back Mr Shepherd’s memories, Mr Poppy takes him and his daughter (and seemingly the rest of St Bernadette’s) back through the events in Shepherd’s diary. This leads to them travelling through various Christmas themed situations, before arriving at the flashmob competition. Unfortunately for Mr Poppy and St Bernadette’s, old nemesis Mr Shakespeare and Oakmoor win the trip to New York. Knowing that Shepherd needs to get to the Big Apple to explain to Sophie what has happened, Mr Poppy steals the plane tickets and gets them there. But Mr Shepherd still doesn’t have his memory back, can he possibly save his marriage?
Ok – so there’s a decent premise in here. I really, really like Martin Clunes (he is great in Doc Martin), and the kids are still likeable enough.
This is a terrible film though. A promising start just fades away when Mr Shepherd loses his memory. Mr Poppy basically drags a severely injured man firstly around the West Midlands and then New York. What should be funny little quirk actually becomes rather upsetting as Shepherd not only forgets what his job is, that he is about to get married, and about Christmas, he actually forgets who his daughter is. She gets increasingly angry with him – she loves Sophie and wants her to be her new mum – and there are some actually distressing scenes where she is shouting at him to just remember, and says that he doesn’t want to remember! Shepherd’s response is basically a blank stare throughout. Martin Clunes looks lost through most of the film, why he was chosen for – or chose to take – this role is beyond me.
And the charm fo the first two films is totally lost, because by focusing so much on Mr Shepherd’s problems, we barely get to see the children at all! Tate is totally wasted in her role, Jason Watkins isn’t in the film enough, there’s almost nothing worthwhile about this film.
And flashmobs? Seriously?
Overall, I give this:
Just… bad. I think it got its single ring only because Adam Garcia was in a Flight Of The Conchords episode, as one of the Australians who pick on Murray and Jermaine at the Embassy.
I would recommend watching the first Nativity!, maybe the second if you are a big David Tennant fan, and only watch the third if you are a compulsive completionist who wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if you didn’t. Tomorrow I’m sticking with the family film theme with JACK FROST! The one with Michael Keaton… the schlock horror one is the day after!
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
PS Here’s my list so far
31st October, Day 1: The Nightmare Before Christmas
1st November, Day 2: Rocky IV
2nd November, Day 3: Edward Scissorhands
3rd November, Day 4: Trading Places
4th November, Day 5: Batman Returns
5th November, Day 6: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
6th November, Day 7: Gremlins
7th November, Day 8: Eyes Wide Shut
8th November, Day 9: Love Actually
9th November, Day 10: Lethal Weapon
10th November, Day 11: Die Hard / Die Hard 2
11th November, Day 12: About A Boy
12th November, Day 13: Trapped In Paradise
13th November, Day 14: Reindeer Games
14th November, Day 15: Joyeux Noel
15th November, Day 16: Nativity / Nativity 2 / Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?