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Review by Cassam Looch

IT’S PROBABLY harder to pull off a convincing yuletide story than anything else. Not just in terms of putting on a play at your local school, but trying to make a convincing cinematic treat for all the family.

So, here’s a Christmas film about the struggles of one teacher and his class to put on the greatest Nativity show ever… and even though both stories are overly familiar, the experience is surprisingly enjoyable.

Martin Freeman is Mr Maddens, a frustrated, under-achieving primary school teacher. His long-time adversary, Gordon Shakespeare (Watkins), teaches at the posh independent school up the road.

Every year, the two schools are embroiled in a bitter rivalry to achieve a 5-star review from the local paper for their nativity play. Maddens’ class always comes runner up – the story of his life.

Goaded by his rival’s arrogance, Maddens makes an idle boast to Shakespeare that this year, his school’s show-stopping musical has attracted the attention of his ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Lore (Ashley Jensen) – who happens to be a big time Hollywood producer. They want to make a movie starring his kids… Hollywood is coming to Coventry!

Maddens suddenly finds himself a local celebrity, at the centre of quarrelling parents, dishonest teachers, and a mayhem of over-excited children and rampaging animals. But as Coventry turns into Tinseltown, the big question remains… Will Jennifer bring Hollywood to town to make all their dreams come true?

Freeman is ‘helped’ by classroom assistant Mr Poppy who wants to bring the fun back into the kids’ lives, but his overzealous efforts aren’t appreciated by Mr Maddens, who is still trying to find a way out of the unlikely promise he has made to the kids.

There is undoubted joy in the process of watching the kids produce the play we are all familiar with. Yes, Mr Poppy (TV’s Marc Wootton) might try hard to refresh it but at the end of the day it’s something almost everyone watching the film can connect with.

It’s a shame the same approach wasn’t taken with the film because the romantic backdrop also feels very recognisable and trundles along to a very predictable finale with almost nothing fresh added to the mix.

Of course, we want our Christmas movies to leave us with a warm glow inside, just as we want love stories to have the same effect, but this one makes no effort in trying to at least inject something of note into its unfurling.

Both Freeman and Jensen are likeable as a couple but seeing as we can predict where the film will end up taking the characters we end up not caring about their prolonged laments.

To be fair, this is only one half of the film. The second part, which sees the production and presentation of the Nativity story, is actually very enjoyable. It does indeed put a big gormless smile on your face and the kids’ performances more than match up to their adult counterparts.

Nativity! is probably the type of film you’ll never want to see at any other time of the year… but that’s kind of the point.

Certificate: U
Running time: 105mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: November 22, 2010