The Nativity Story
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Catherine Hardwicke
scr Mike Rich
with Keisha Castle-Hughes, Oscar Isaac, Ciarán Hinds, Hiam Abbass, Shaun Toub, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Stanley Townsend, Alexander Siddig, Nadim Sawalha, Eriq Ebouaney, Stefan Kalipha, Ted Rusoff
release US 1.Dec.06, UK 8.Dec.06
06/US New Line 1h30

They're only teens: Isaac and Castle-Hughes

hinds aghdashloo siddig

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The Nativity Story With a fresh approach to the birth of Jesus, Hardwicke (Thirteen) tells the biblical story with energy and spark, adding layers of meaning that give the film a bit of a kick. The faithfulness to the Gospel account will thrill believers, although mainstream audiences may struggle with the emotive spirituality.

Mary (Castle-Hughes) is a typical Jewish teen 2,000 years ago, betrothed by her parents (Toub and Abbass) to a local carpenter, Joseph (Isaac). When an angel (Siddig) tells her she's going to conceive God incarnate, she naturally struggles to accept this news. And how will Joseph take it? Meanwhile, King Herod (Hinds) is looking for new ways of levying taxes against his subjects and avoiding a prophecy about the coming people's king. And three astronomers in Persia (Sawalha, Kalipha and Rusoff) link that prophecy to an eventful alignment of planets, and head towards Judea to investigate.

The best thing about this film is the exhaustive research into the time and place, which shows in the detailed context in which the story's set. This is a vivid portrayal of the politics of the day, complete with an intriguing look at Jewish culture and even international relations. In this setting, Mary and Joseph's story takes on even more meaning and relevance. And Rich's script also cleverly weaves in references to Jesus' adult life, which adds layers of new meaning to a familiar story.

Performances are very strong, and there's even some nice chemistry between Castle-Hughes and Isaac. The three wise men provide the badly needed comic relief, even as their scientific instruments offer an intriguing glimpse into the technology of the period. Hinds is slightly reduced to a one-note paranoid villain, storming and glowering at everyone. While Aghdashloo and Townsend provide a nice interlude as Elizabeth (Mary's pregnant cousin) and her husband.

besides the slightly reverential tone, the only real problem is the rather wonky geography (exactly where in central Israel is the Sahara Desert?) as well as a few too-perfect Christmas card tableaux. But as a story of a young couple confronted with something truly outrageous and facing it with honesty and faith, this is a powerful, moving drama.

cert PG themes, some violence 8.Nov.06

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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall