Going to the movies to see a story that you know the beginning, middle and end of is a somewhat interesting experience. Include the fact that The Nativity Story involves the actual Biblical retelling of the birth of Jesus, and you can't help but wonder what you'll see.
While several movies have taken on this subject, I found this version a simple and unpretentious production. It's also intriguing why, after so many years, a screenwriter would be driven by this story.
Screenwriter Mike Rich found out why he became inspired during the Christmas season of 2004. "I noticed a handful of magazine articles on the nativity, on Mary and Joseph, the Magi, the shepherd; all of the characters I'd carefully placed in my family's Nativity set every year when I was growing up," said Rich. "And it occurred to me that while I knew, visually, how the journey to Bethlehem ended, I had very little idea of how they got there, what kind of people they were, and what kind of challenges they likely faced. As a person of faith myself, and as a storyteller, those were compelling questions."
Catherine Hardwicke directs a relatively unknown cast and does a wonderful job in keeping the story focused on the historical aspects and never lets her job get in the way. The film's tagline is “One couple, one journey, one child” – and it doesn't need to be anymore than that.
Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for Whale Rider at the age of 14, heads up the cast of the film as Mary, the young virgin who is chosen to birth the baby Jesus.
Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac
Mary is a young carefree girl enjoying her Jewish lifestyle in Nazareth until her parents (Hiam Abbass, Shaun Toub) tell her it's time to think about marrying. She disagrees but is soon betrothed to Joseph (Oscar Isaac). Bothered by this news, she flees to an olive grove where she's startled by the vision of the angel Gabriel (Alexander Siddig). He informs Mary that through the Holy Spirit she will deliver a son, and she is to name him Jesus, as he will save the people from their sins and give them everlasting life.
Hiam Abbass and Shaun Toub
Mary is doubtful of this until she's visiting her cousin, Elizabeth (Oscar-nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo) and feels the child growing inside. Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah (Stanley Townsend) are also expecting. But they are both old and need Mary's help. When Mary realizes Gabriel's forewarning has come true, she quickly returns home.
Arriving back in Nazareth, Mary is obviously pregnant and everyone around her is aghast, but Joseph takes the high road and agrees to wed Mary anyway. Soon the countrymen are abuzz. King Herod (Ciaran Hinds), a patron of Caesar Augustus, fears the Old Testament's prophecy that a King of Kings will arrive in the Roman occupied Holy Land. He orders that all male children under two in Bethlehem be slaughtered. But that does not stop his anxiety.
King Herod then orders a tax and every man to return to the town of his birth, which for Joseph is Bethlehem. So he and Mary are off where the historic event takes place. I actually liked the first half of the movie better as the story unfolded in a straight forward manner, while the hoop la surrounding the birth of Jesus seems a little too glamorized.
The Nativity Story, a great film for Christians, helps families teach children that this is what Christmas is about and not getting presents. It's also a treat for anyone else wanting to escape another minute waiting in a check-out line.
Photo credits: Jaimie Trueblood /© 2006 New Line Cinema