Nativity! is such a nice, inoffensive and charming film that it’s impossible not to succumb to its seasonal charms. Martin Freeman plays Paul Maddens, a primary school teacher entrusted with the school’s annual nativity play; after a previous disastrous attempt and his girlfriend’s departure to Hollywood at Christmas five years before, Mr Maddens is far from being filled with yuletide cheer. Yet after an altercation with his previous friend, who as a teacher at the neighbouring rival private school produces the local critic’s (Alan Carr) choice nativity each year, Maddens is forced to come up with the best his hitherto ‘useless’, but soon to be endearing, pupils have to offer.
Maddens is unable to appreciate the subtleties of each individual pupil and the genuine affection they hold for him without the aid of Marc Wootton’s childlike ‘village idiot’ classroom assistant Mr Poppy. In a real classroom situation, Mr Poppy’s derision for taking on adult responsibilties would surely secure an immediate end to his career, yet in the environment of the film his character becomes increasingly comedic and appealing, often providing the most visual laughs.
Whilst the film doesn’t offer anything particulary new to the festive film catalogue and nor does it try to, it is certainly refreshing to see such normal children on screen, a world away from the highly polished and contrived performances of High School Musical and Camp Rock.
Freeman essentially plays the same character he’s been playing since The Office, but in a film in which the children take centre stage: all of whom act and improvise extremely well, Freeman’s difficulty in displaying any real acting capability doesn’t hinder the film in the slightest, and he is admittedly more than adept at dealing with the more emotional scenes of the film.
At any other times of year films like Nativity! simply wouldn’t work, it’s undeniably schmaltzy, and fairly emotionally manipulative, choosing some of the most adorable children on film. And whilst the flashback scenes of Madden’s happier times with his girlfriend have the potential to becomes cloying, they manage to steer clear of contriteness, It’s certainly not going to win any accolades any time soon, yet despite this, perhaps due to its simplicity, Nativity! is thoroughly enjoyable, and perfect Christmas time fare.