“As if Hollywood would come to Coventry”
For whatever reason, I hadn’t ever gotten round to watching festive film Nativity since its release in 2009 but its broadcast on BBC1 meant I finally got the opportunity to be thoroughly won over by its lo-fi festive spirit. Written by Debbie Isitt but also partially improvised by the cast, it nails that typical (successful) Brit-flick style with all its deprecatory charm and underdog spirit, along with an unexpectedly effective original musical score.
Nativity centres on an inter-school rivalry in Coventry, where private primary school Oakmoor consistently produce the best-received nativity show. This year, the headteacher of St Bernadette’s has something to say about that and so puts curmudgeonly Christmas-hater Paul Maddens (Martin Freeman) in charge of their show, aware that his old drama school friend and rival Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) is the one succeeding at Oakmoor,
When a fib about Jennifer (Ashley Jensen) another of their colleagues who is now working in LA snowballs into a public declaration that Hollywood is coming to visit, Maddens finds himself up a certain creek but with the help of a class full of adorable moppets and the inimitable charms of child-like teaching assistant Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton), the show of course has to go on. And it does so with a wonderful sense of wit and warmth.
Audition scenes see the kids displaying all sorts of ill-suited talents but also delicate hints of troubled home lives that the show is helping them escape, if only for a while; the Hollywood detour reveals unexpected truths about Jennifer and Paul’s previous relationship; and Mr Poppy’s relentless enthusiasm drives the chaotic rehearsal period onto a grand finale, which somehow manages to be a simply beautiful thing.
The songs that previously seemed silly click into place, the climactic ‘One Night One Moment’ is a Christmas number one that should-have-been, and the low-key twists and turns all resolve themselves into a well-earned happy ending. It should be much cheesier than it is so credit to Isitt and the cast for keeping things on the right side (well, apart from Alan Carr’s theatre critic…) of absolutely adorable. Recommended viewing.