YES, with Nativity Rocks! (Cert. U) we’re back for a fourth helping of the franchise. Once again it’s Christmas in Coventry, and guess what? The pupils of St Bernadette’s are participating in yet another competition. This time, their city wants to be Christmas Town of the Year. Coventry’s bid will climax with a Nativity rock opera directed by Emmanuel Cavendish.
Casting Craig Revel Horwood in this role inevitably leads to associations with the often blunt judge from television’s Strictly Come Dancing. Cavendish is far more vindictive, disabling any other talents but his own. He represents the polar opposite of what the movie considers Christmas to be — a time for celebrating, sharing, caring, and, on this occasion, rocking.
It is hard to dissent. Those lines from T. S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi did, however, flit across my mind about this Birth being hard and bitter agony for us, more like Death, our death. But only a Scrooge would raise such a quibble. This feel-good movie may even encourage some viewers, ill at ease “in the old dispensation”, to work for something better. The film, like its predecessors, recognises the nativity story as encapsulating for many people, Christian or otherwise, our hopes and fears.
A crucial factor in Coventry’s bid for the title is focusing on its multiculturism. Here is a community striving to respect an assembly of faiths and ethnic backgrounds. Workers, aristocrats, foreigners, and people of colour all found themselves welcome in that Bethlehem stable. Nativity Rocks! makes a contemporary link, particularly with the Holy Family’s flight from murderous Herod. Doru (Brian Bartle), a refugee, is befriended by the school after being cut adrift from his father during their escape.
Much of the film’s energy is due to the enthusiasm of Jerry Poppy (Simon Lipkin): not the bumbling teaching assistant (now in Australia) of previous episodes, but his long-lost American brother. When he rocks up at the school, the headmistress (Celia Imrie) enlists him to get pupils through the auditions and into the final show. It’s an uphill task. Their Blessed Virgin Mary is confronted between hitting her cue and going to the lavatory. “I’d rather have a wee than have a baby,” she says. Nor can she (nor several other cast members) sing in tune. All these setbacks are overcome. Doru’s “Born to be Wild” is a potential show-stopper.
There are other problems, too. From the beginning of the Nativity series, there’s frequently a more privileged rival after the prize. Oakmoor School’s head of music, Hugo Alexander (Gabriel Vick), schemes to win the auditions for his classically trained choir and represent Coventry. It is only when one of his affluent but lonely pupils, Barnaby (Rupert Turnbull), joins up with Doru that they have the dream team.
As anybody can guess, the film ends in blissful resolution. So what? Nativity Rocks! is like attending the annual pantomime. It has all the usual kind of characters and plot. We would be disappointed should things be otherwise. Audiences are there to engage with “this most tremendous tale of all”. I think they will.