The fourth instalment in the Nativity film series, Nativity Rocks! restores a little of the goodwill squandered by the previous two sequels
“I’m wishing Father Christmas doesn’t forget where I live like he did last year”
I can’t think of a film franchise that has squandered such promise as the Nativity series. Debbie Isitt’s original film was such a sweetly unexpected success, but its magic sadly proved rather elusive as its subsequent sequels lost any of its sense of purpose or improvised charm. So the arrival of a third sequel in the shape of Nativity Rocks! (released in cinemas in 2018) came with a healthy dose of apprehension, even if the musical adaptation has rescued some of its lustre (though is that also now in danger of oversaturation , as the musical is now in its third consecutive winter tour).
For all my reservations though, Isitt had zero problem in attracting a quality ensemble as the cast undergoes something of an overhaul. So Marc Wootton’s Mr Poppy is dispatched to Australia and replaced with Simon Lipkin’s Mr Poppy (his long-lost brother), Daniel Boys is the fresh-faced teacher taking St Bernadette’s school choir through the rigours of yet another competition, with Helen George as the putative love interest, Gabriel Vick as the posh rival schoolmaster. Plus there’s Hugh Dennis and Anna Chancellor as some well-to-do parents, Ramin Karimloo as a refugee father, Meera Syal and Celia Imrie too, plus Craig Revel Horwood…
This time round the competition is to make Coventry ‘Christmas town of the year’ through the medium of rock opera, but though the scene seems sets for lashings of pop-rock songs, the musical side is barely touched. In its place is a refugee story that is rather affecting in a gentle way, as Syrian father and son (Karimloo and Brian Bartle) are separated and left homeless. The messaging around family and home at Christmastime is undeniable and the experienced Lipkin has enough edge and experience to just about keep the sentiment from getting too sickly as Mr Poppy engineers the happy ending that is never in doubt. Not quite a full return to form, but considerably better than either of the other sequels.