NATIVITY! and NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER! A DOUBLE FESTIVE MOVIE REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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NATIVITY! (2009) and NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER! (2012) BOTH FILMS DIRECTED BY DEBBIE ISITT.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I watched these two films as a double bill on Christmas Eve, and they weren’t half as excruciating as I was expecting ’em to be from what I’d heard, lol. In fact, my son and I were laughing out loud at times at the implausible but warm-hearted and well-intentioned silliness of it all.

In NATIVITY!, the original film, Martin Freeman (THE HOBBIT and about a million other things) plays an unhappy primary school teacher called Paul Maddens. He’s unhappy because his lovely bubbly blonde girlfriend Jennifer has left him and buggered off to Hollywood to become a film producer. ‘Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach primary.’

Now he’s embittered, cranky and seemingly incapable of having any fun. The kids in his class are definitely suffering under his tense and rigid play-everything-by-the-book rule. He’s become a bit of a Scrooge, frankly.

Paul is horrified one morning at Assembly when the headmistress of St. Bernadette’s, Mrs. Bevan (played by Pam Ferris), announces that he, Paul Maddens, is to take charge of the school Nativity play this year.

This will possibly be Mrs. Bevan’s last year as the Head, and her dearest wish before she retires is to have St. Bernadette’s take the five-star-review for their Nativity play from local critic and super-bitch Patrick Burns (‘That’s why they call ’em ‘Burns’ Victims…!”), played by Alan Carr. (Ricky Tomlinson from THE ROYLE FAMILY cameos here also as the local Lord Mayor.)

Normally the five-star-review goes to Oakmoor, the local posh school, whose Nativity is run by Gordon Shakespeare, Paul’s old friend from drama school and his fiercest rival. No pressure then, Paulie my man.

Paul is horrified at the thought of having to shoulder this new challenge/burden/responsibility/millstone, but never fear, Mrs. Bevan has lined up some help for him…

This help comes in the form of overgrown-schoolboy-type Desmond Poppy (played by Marc Wootton), Paul’s new classroom assistant who just so happens to be Mrs. Bevan’s nephew. Mr. Poppy is much more interested in playing the fool and having fun than helping the children to buckle down and learn anything.

Mr. Poppy is excited beyond measure at the thought of the Nativity play, especially when he overhears Paul boasting- lying- to his rival Gordon Shakespeare about how Jennifer, Paul’s old girlfriend who’s now a bigshot Hollywood producer, is coming to the Nativity play at St. Bernadette’s with a big fancy Hollywood camera crew.

This lie grows legs and is all over the school and, indeed, the town by lunchtime. Paul is in a quandary. He can either tell the truth about how there is no Hollywood production team coming to see the Nativity play, thereby making the school famous, and devastate the kids and their parents, or he can bloody well get on the blower to Jennifer in Hollywood and try to make it happen. Of course he can do that. It’s not like he’s still hopelessly in love with her or anything…

NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER! is much funnier, I feel. Mrs. Bevan has not retired, and the fun-loving Mr. Poppy is still in situ. This time around, he’s terribly excited about ‘A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS,’ a talent show for schools that’s taking place in Wales this Christmas.

Mrs. Bevan says that they can’t take part because St. Bernadette’s has neither the time, the talent (cheek!) nor the transport to manage it. But since when have rules and regulations ever stopped the ebullient Mr. Poppy from doing exactly what he pleases? He throws himself into the singing auditions in true Simon Cowell-style, and before long he and the pupils of Class Seven have a song for the show.

One of the many flies in the ointment is the new Class Seven teacher Donald Peterson, played by Scottish heart-throb David DR. WHO Tennant. (Mmmmmm, David Tennant…!)

As a new teacher, Donald Peterson is anxious to play-everything-by-the-book and if Mrs. Bevan says that there’s to be no show, which she most assuredly has done, then that’s that.

So how come he suddenly finds himself aboard a presumably stolen amphibian bus full of eager kids, being driven to Wales by the irrepressible Mr. Poppy, who knows as much about navigation, child safety and the rules of the road as he does about the flippin’ Periodic Table?

Mr. Peterson is beside himself with rage and anxiety. He’s got a pregnant wife at home who’s due to give birth at any time, and Mr. Poppy has chucked his (Donald’s) phone out the bus window so now he has no way of contacting her. Nice one, Mr. Poppy…

The journey to Wales becomes utterly unbelievable at times. We’re expected to believe that a class full of kids, two adult males (Mr. Poppy and Mr. Peterson) and a donkey and a baby (don’t ask!) can casually climb up and down mountains that experienced hikers who’ve been planning for months would find hard to do. Just do what I did and say to yourself: It’s a film. These things happen in films…

A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS is hilarious and deliciously bitchy. Class Seven is not only up against their old enemy, Gordon Shakespeare and his little coterie of poshos from snobby Oakmoor, but against Roderick Peterson as well.

Roderick is the world-famous conductor who just so happens to be Donald Peterson’s identical twin brother (also played by David Tennant) and their father’s favourite, more successful son. There’s obviously a lot at stake here.

The songs in the contest are funny and witty and Angel Matthews, the celebrity soprano-cum-presenter, is an utter bitch who quite obviously fancies the terrifyingly ambitious Roderick Peterson, who represents St. Cuthbert’s School. (‘Inhale success, exhale doubt.’) Well, he’s even more of a bitch so they ought to complement each other nicely.

So, does Mr. Peterson win the contest and grab back some of his self-respect from the father (played by Ian McNeice) and brother who’ve spent his lifetime trying to erode it? Can the two brothers ever be friends after all the animosity and hostility that’s come between them in the past, and that their father has clearly encouraged in order to spur them into further competing with each other? It’s a surprisingly common method of parenting but not one, I fear, that yields the sweetest results.

Does Mr. Poppy keep his job after the Head finds out what he’s done? Can St. Bernadette’s come out on top for once? The kids certainly deserve it after the journey they’ve made, but will they be disqualified for breaking nearly all the rules of the contest? We’ll see…

The crowds of people arriving at the contest in their droves for St. Bernadette’s reminds me of CLOCKWISE. This is a comedy film starring John Cleese about the headmaster of an ordinary comprehensive school who’s travelling to a much posher school to give an address during a headmasters’ conference. CLOCKWISE is a genuinely witty and funny film. Watch it if you can.

The kiddie actors are great in both NATIVITY! films, by the way. There’s an especially cute little boy called Bob (played by Ben Wilby) who Wilby (will be!) a very good actor when he grows up.

NATIVITY! and NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER! aren’t exactly on a par with CITIZEN KANE but they’ll keep the kids busy- and in fits of laughter- while you peel the sprouts this Christmas. Job done.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

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