The Nativity Story


Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary
Oscar Isaac as Joseph
Hiam Abbass as Anna
Shaun Toub as Joaquim
Ciarán Hinds as King Herod
Shohreh Aghdashloo as Elizabeth
Stanley Townsend as Zechariah
Alexander Siddig as The Angel Gabriel
Nadim Sawalha as Melchior
Eriq Ebouaney as Balthasar
Stefan Kalipha as Gaspar
Alessandro Giuggioli as Antipas
Farida Ouchani as Ruth
Saïd Amadis as Tero

“The Nativity Story” is a great looking film that is mostly biblically accurate, but it misses a lot of opportunities to flesh out the characters of Mary and Joseph.

“The Nativity Story” tells the well-known tale of the birth of Jesus Christ. The story starts by showing Zechariah being told of the impending birth of John the Baptist. It concludes with showing Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt as Herod has all the male babies put to death. You probably know everything in-between.

“The Nativity Story” is rated PG for some violent content

What Worked:
As a Christian I was eager to see if “The Nativity Story” was any good. I thought “The Passion of The Christ” set a high bar for religious films and I wondered if this film could match it. While it wasn’t everything that I hoped it would be, I thought “The Nativity Story” was a pretty good movie.

In my mind, the most notable thing about it is the production design. The costumes, sets, and locations look fantastic. You really feel like you’re in ancient lands while watching the movie. I also liked the fact that it was mostly biblically accurate. They went out of their way to tell little details of the story (like the birth of John the Baptist, the census, the manger as a cave, etc.). They depict Mary as a young teenager rather than an older woman. The creators also didn’t shy away from the darker elements of the story. They show Herod’s soldiers killing the infants. They show how Joseph was initially angry upon finding out Mary was pregnant. These details make the story a lot more compelling.

What Didn’t Work:
Sadly, the movie is really slow and dry. The story plods along as it unfolds. I saw that a lot of parents had taken kids to our screening and they were all very antsy (when they weren’t being shocked by babies being killed and childbirth scenes). And as much as I liked the fact that they were biblically correct in their storytelling, the actors seemed like they were reading directly from an NIV bible while delivering their lines. There’s no passion (no pun intended) in their performances. This dry, almost deadpan delivery makes it difficult to watch.

The film doesn’t really pick up any speed until Mary reveals to her family and Joseph that she’s pregnant. Their anger with her, Joseph’s frustration, and the potential death penalty she faces really spark dramatic tension in the film. Unfortunately, this isn’t dwelt on very long. After Joseph realizes that Mary is carrying Jesus, the two deal with the implications of the fact that they’ll be parents to the Son of God. This, too, is a really interesting part of the story. How do they raise him? How will they know his power? Will they teach him or vice versa? These questions are brought up for the briefest of moments, then never revisited. I think it was a lost opportunity and one of the more interesting aspects of the story.

As for the acting, I already mentioned that it was rather wooden. I thought Keisha Castle-Hughes was good looking as Mary, but she was never given a chance to flesh out her character. Why did God choose her? They briefly hint at her childhood and transformation into womanhood, but this is glossed over. And when she finally starts interacting with Joseph, they play up the tentative, early relationship between them, but her eventual love and relationship with Joseph is glossed over. They never even share a kiss in the film (well, except on the hand). I thought there was a missed opportunity to expand on their relationship. After all, God chose them as the perfect couple to raise Jesus – what was there to make that so? In the end, the movie seems more concerned with getting a picture-perfect manger scene at the end rather than doing a real in-depth character exploration.

The Bottom Line:
“The Nativity Story” is a nice telling of the biblical story, but it could have been a lot more than it was. Don’t expect “Passion”-like pilgrimages to the theater for this one.