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Advent 2022 – 24 days of inspiring Christmas films

For our Advent special in 2022, we’re reflecting on 24 feel-good films that have inspired us for the Christmas season. We hope you enjoy…

DAY 24

The Nativity Story (2006)
It is the age of the Roman Empire and God’s people are burdened with heavy consequences if they do not pay their taxes to the soldiers that regularly disturb their reasonably peaceful lives. The opening scenes of The Nativity Story are dark and disturbing and typical of the historical time in which Jesus was born. The Israelites eagerly hope in a coming Messiah who will save them from their troubled lives. Another who also waits, although not so eagerly, is Herod, King of Judea (played by Ciarán Hinds). He also knows of the prophecies of the coming Messiah and is determined to thwart any chance of a child taking over his throne. At the same time, three wise men from the east study the special star they realise is on a trajectory for Judea and choose to follow it. The magi – Gaspar (Stefan Kalipha), Melchior (Nadim Sawalha) and Balthasar (Eriq Ebouaney) – provide many light moments of comic relief throughout the movie. Meanwhile, young Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) sees the persecution of her people and amidst this backdrop is betrothed to Joseph (Oscar Isaac) and receives a pretty hefty message from an angel of the Lord, telling her she will bear the Messiah. The scene is now set for the greatest story ever told. The fulfilment of God’s promise through the ages to all people.

– SAMANTHA ELLEY

 

DAY 23

I Heard The Bells (2022)
The story of how American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow came to write the poem Christmas Bells in 1863 (the basis for what became the carol I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day), this film is a powerful portrayal of the hope Christmas can bring even to those in the midst of deep grief. Set around the time of the US Civil War, Longfellow (Stephen Atherholt) was at the peak of his fame, surrounded by a large and loving family, when tragedy struck, causing him to stop writing and become a recluse. It’s a long road to finding his voice again but Christian hope eventually rekindles in Longfellow’s heart, leading him to once again pick up his pen. Directed and co-written by Joshua Enck and starring Rachel Day Hughes as Longfellow’s wife Fanny and Jonathan Blair as his son Charley, it’s a slow-paced but deeply inspiring real-life Christmas story. 

– DAVID ADAMS

 

DAY 22

Black Nativity (2013)
A musical with a powerful story of Christmas redemption, Black Nativity follows teenager Langston (Jacob Latimore) who’s forced to go and live with grandparents he doesn’t know in Harlem, New York, after he and his mother Naima (Jennifer Lawrence) face eviction from their Baltimore home. Meeting his grandparents, the strict Rev Cornell Cobb (Forest Whitaker) and his wife Aretha (Angela Bassett), leads Langston to question what’s happened in the family’s past, particularly concerning the rift between his mother and grandparents. Boasting a strong cast and some great music – not the least in Rev Cobb’s church, much of the focus of the film is on the church’s annual nativity play out of which flows a wonderful story of restoration. 

– DAVID ADAMS 

 

DAY 21


 

The Star (2017)
One for the kids, The Star is a somewhat under-appreciated animated film which tells the story of a donkey named Bo (Steven Yeun) who, together with an excitable dove named Dave (Keegan-Michael Key), runs away from his home at the village mill in Nazareth in search of a more exciting life with the royal caravan. But fleeing from the miller, he accidentally encounters Mary (that’s right – the Mary, voiced by Gina Rodriguez), who’s trying to find the right time to tell Joseph (Zachary Levi) about the fact she’s carrying the Messiah. Recovering from an injured leg, Bo ends up staying with Mary and Joseph only, due to his obstinance, to be left at home while they leave to take part in the Roman Census in Bethlehem. But when Herod’s minions – including two canine brutes named Thaddeus (Ving Rhames) and Rufus (Gabriel Iglesias) – come looking for Mary, Bo decides he and Dave must follow her to Bethlehem to warn her. Along the way, they’re joined by a sheep, Ruth (Aidy Bryant), and eventually follow a mysterious star which places them right to the heart of the first Christmas story as they become witnesses to the birth of Jesus Christ. As one might expect, there’s plenty of amusing characters – Felix (Tracy Morgan), one of the Wise Men’s camels, is a stand-out, some great redemptive themes, some catchy takes on traditional Christmas carols, and the voices of everyone from Oprah Winfrey and Mariah Carey to Patricia Heaton and Christopher Plummer.

– DAVID ADAMS 

 

DAY 20

White Christmas (1954)
Considered to be an American classic, White Christmas stars Hollywood legends Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney (yes, George’s mum) and features one of the best-known Christmas songs from Irving Berlin. The film begins on Christmas Eve in 1944, just as World War II is coming to an end and Captain Bob Wallace (Crosby) and Private Phil Davis (Kaye) are entertaining the troops. Through a series of quirky events, songs and dances over the next year, they team up with the Haynes sisters, Betty (Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen). With romance in the air along with some holiday challenges, the four pull out all the stops together to save a Vermont lodge owned by their old general. Filmed in Technicolor, the movie sheds light on the American myth to defend country – and heroes – come what may, including snowstorms and sentimental Christmas messages. If you enjoy the song and dance genre of that era and don’t mind the military adulation, White Christmas will give you the holiday cheer you need to imagine a snowy Christmas. 

– JO KADLECEK

 

DAY 19

Christmas Child (2004)
Another movie based on a Max Lucado book, Christmas Child tells the story of Jack Davenport (William R Moses), a journalist in Chicago whose work is pulling him away from his wife Meg (Megan Follows). She’s pregnant but hasn’t yet told Jack who once again has to leave her (and the family Christmas) for a work assignment in Dallas, Texas, which he hopes will get his career back on track. While in Texas, Davenport, who was adopted as a child, decides to visit the place of his birth – the small town of Clearwater – to find out some more about his biological family. Struggling to find the information he’s seeking, Davenport is helped by locals including the town’s newspaper reporter Naomi (Vicki Taylor Ross) and the local reverend, Michael Curtis (singer Steven Curtis Chapman) but there are some others – including Sheriff Jimmy James (Muse Watson) – who clearly want him to leave town asap. A Christmas story of love and second chances with a bit of a mystery thrown in (and a delightful children’s nativity play) set amid Christmas festivities.

– DAVID ADAMS 

 

DAY 18


 

The Small One (1978)
This short Disney “featurette” – based on a 1947 book by Charles Tazewell and originally issued in cinemas to accompany a re-release of Pinacchio – tells the story of a young boy living near Nazareth who must part with his best friend, an old donkey he’s named Small One. The boy’s father tells him that because the Small One can’t work as he once did – he’s too old and weak now – he must take him to market to sell him. After a narrow escape at a tanner’s – who’s only after the donkey’s hide, the boy takes the Small One to the market where he’s met with ridicule. Things take a turn for the better when a kindly man approaches and asks if he could buy the donkey to carry his wife to Bethlehem. Produced by the legendary animator Don Bluth (who also worked on the animated 1973 version of Robin Hood and films including Pete’s Dragon (1977) and The Secret of NIMH (1982)this simple tale forms part of a much bigger story that changed the world in the most profound way. Also known as A Christmas Miracle, The Small One shows that no-one is left out of the Christmas story and that everyone has value (even an old donkey well past his prime).

– DAVID ADAMS

 

DAY 17

Chasing the Star (2017) 
Dark, brooding and mysterious, this film draws on the Biblical account of the birth of Christ to tell the story of the three magi – Balthazar (Randy Spence), Gasper (Bello Pizzimenti) and Melchior (Garry Nation) – who followed a star from the east to find “the last Messiah”. Arriving in Jerusalem, they meet with a paranoid and haunted Herod (Ralph Lister) who intends using the three men to find the one named the “King of the Jews”. The three magi agree to do so but when they realise Herod’s evil intent, they decide to warn the One they are looking for instead. It makes for a fraught journey, particularly as each of the three magi must also grapple with their own past. Directed by Bret Miller, it’s an interesting take on the Christmas story (although not one for young children) and delivers a sense, not only of the historic context in which it occurs, but of the bigger, eternal, story that is being unfolded.

– DAVID ADAMS

  

DAY 16

The Chosen Christmas Special: The Messengers (2021)
The crowd-funded Gospel series, The Chosen, has become known for bringing New Testament characters to life in a refreshing way. This Christmas special portrays the nativity in a new light, with the gritty reality of shoveling dung out of a stable and preparing a manger for Christ’s birth. The Messengers further adds another new angle on the narrative by introducing a second related plot, where Mother Mary is now on her deathbed and meets with Mary Magdalene to share important details of Christ’s birth that are destined to be recorded in the Gospel of Luke. At less than 40 minutes, this is a quick Christmas watch that seeks to portray the reality of Christ’s birth and the people that were witnesses. Available to stream on the Angel Studio’s app, it is worth downloading not just for this, but to access the three seasons of The Chosen that will surely illuminate your view of the Gospels.

– MARCUS CHEONG

 

DAY 15

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
This Peanuts film brings warm-hearted fun (and some great music) to the screen as well as touching on the very heart of what Christmas is all about. Charlie Brown is in a crisis (not surprisingly), wondering what Christmas is all about – “Of all the Charlie Browns in the world,” blanket-carrying Linus tells him, “You’re the Charlie Browniest”. Charlie seeks the advice of everyone he meets including Lucy, whose answer to his depression is to make him the director of the childrens’ Christmas play (naturally a thankless task, not helped at all by the antics of his dog Snoopy). But eventually it’s Linus who takes him back to the true meaning of Christmas by quoting from the Bible. He recites a passage from Luke chapter two concerning the angel’s visit to the shepherds in the fields including “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord” before ending by stating simply: “And that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown”. It’s turning point of sorts for Charlie Brown and the whole gang and sees the story end on something of a high as they all join in a rendition of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. A classic. The date of the show’s release has been corrected.

– DAVID ADAMS

 

DAY 14

Silent Night (2012)
Not to be confused with a horror movie of the same name, this film tells the story of how assistant priest Joseph Mohr (played by Carsten Clemens) – who lives in the Austrian village of Oberndorf – came to write the famous hymn in 1818. Mohr attracts the ire of his superior, Fr Noestler (Clemens Aap Lindenberg), who claims he’s become too close to the “common people” and is, as a result, “neglecting his priestly duties”. Their relationship further deteriorates after Mohr organises a church choir that not only performs in German, not Latin, but includes a woman. Mohr faces a crisis of faith and out of that comes one of the most enduring and beautiful Christmas carols of all time, still sung all over the world. There’s the bonus of some stunning scenery as the film was shot on location in Austria.

– DAVID ADAMS

 

DAY 13

A Christmas Snow (2010)
Restauranteur Kathleen (Catherine Mary Stewart) only has bad memories of Christmases past and is hence determined to avoid any Christmas cheer (leading to a restaurant reviewer describing her a “gourmet grinch”). Her widower boyfriend Andrew (Anthony Tyler Quinn) brings his rather bratty 10-year-old daughter Lucy (Cameron ten Napel) to meet Kathleen one night but things don’t go well. But after Andrew runs into trouble with finding a babysitter, he is forced to leave Lucy for a night with Kathleen. They’re soon joined by an elderly neighbour Sam (Muse Watson) who earlier came to Kathleen’s rescue when she’s the victim of an attempted robbery. The three of them are subsequently trapped together in house for the next few days after a sudden, unexpected heavy snowfall in what proves a life-changing experience for Kathleen as well as for the other two as they’re forced to confront the past hurts which are continuing to impact their lives in a negative way. A little syrupy but with a solid message about forgiveness, redemption and the new possibilities Christmas brings.

– DAVID ADAMS 

 

DAY 12

The Preacher’s Wife (1986)
A remake of the classic 1947 film, The Bishop’s Wife, this tells the story of harried preacher Rev Henry Biggs (Courtney B Vance) who can never seem to keep up with needs of his parishioners and who, amid declining finances, is facing closure of his church. All that’s putting an immense strain on his relationship with his wife Julia (Whitney Houston) and, facing a series of new setbacks, he calls out to God for help. The answer comes in the unexpected form of an angel named Dudley (Denzel Washington) whose rocky relationship with Rev Biggs (who refuses to believe he is an angel) is only further complicated when Dudley falls for Julia. The Preacher’s Wife features an all star Eighties cast – including appearances by Lionel Ritchie – and a stellar soundtrack led by the late Whitney Houston culiminating in a rockin’ Christmas service. Funny yet at times deeply insightful, The Preacher’s Wife conveys a clear sense of the hope that we all can have in Christ at Christmas covered in plenty of Eighties nostalgia.

– DAVID ADAMS 

 

DAY 11

It’s A Wonderful Life (1947)
When Frank Capra’s 1946 film was first released in US cinemas, it flopped. Too dark, the critics said, especially as the country was recovering from World War II. The production company went bankrupt and the film ended up in the public domain, meaning television stations had unlimited access to it. So they played it on repeat each Christmas holiday, and with so much airtime, it became a classic. Little wonder. It’s a great film from start to end, with a story line that reminds us of the gifts we have in the everyday, even if life doesn’t turn out how we plan. That’s what George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) discovers as he gives up his life’s dreams for the good of Bedford Falls. He’d wanted to “see the world” but some last minute obligation always kept him from using his travel tickets. Even when he marries his sweetheart Mary (Donna Reed), the Great Depression hits and they barely survive the bank run. But when he loses $8,000 on Christmas Eve, his world goes dark – until a surprising visitor gives him a chance to see what life would have been like without him. And in the process, he sees how rich he really is, that “no man is poor who has friends”.

– JO KADLECEK 

 

DAY 10

The Christmas Candle (2013)
Based on a novel by Max Lucado, The Christmas Candle tells the story of the fictional village of Gladbury which, for 200 years, has been blessed at Christmas every 25 years with the visit of an angel. The angel appears in the local candle-maker’s house and blesses a candle which is then presented to the person most in need of a miracle in their life. The film centres on the story of clergyman David Richmond (Hans Matheson) who takes up the position of minister in the town in a year the angel is expected to visit. Rev Richmond, who doesn’t believe in miracles thanks to personal tragedy, is confronted with some key questions about his own faith after he arrives in the town. A sweet, genteel film about faith, hope and miracles with a terrific cast including the likes of Lesley Manville, James Cosmo, John Hannah and Susan Boyle whose lines include: “You’re not the first clergyman I’ve seen in his underpants”. 

– DAVID ADAMS 

 

DAY 9

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
What’s not to like? Christmas, Charles Dickens and muppets come together in this always humerous, at times poignant, rendering of Dicken’s classic novel, A Christmas Carol. Kermit plays the unassuming Bob Cratchit and Miss Piggy his wife while Michael Caine (who’s not a muppet) plays notorious tight-wad Ebenezer Scrooge. As you might expect, there’s a musical element to the story (the three ghost of Christmas each have a song to sing), and, of course, the muppets make the most of every moment with many of your favourite characters – everyone from Fozzie to Statler and Waldorf and Gonzo – making appearances as they story unfolds. A great way to spend a night with the kids in the lead-up to the big day. 

– DAVID ADAMS

 

DAY 8

Joyeux Nöel (2005)
If you’re ever feeling disillusioned about the power of what Christmas is really about, then take a look at the wonderful movie, Joyeux Noel. Capturing the incredible true story of the Christmas Truce of 1914, this movie is a less well-known Christmas tale, but is the most beautiful one I have ever seen. On the first Christmas Eve of World War I, Scottish, French, and German troops lie in the trenches, metres apart from each other. Suddenly the sound of bagpipes fills the frozen winter air as the Scots start to sing Christmas carols. The Germans respond with their own carols, and the French join them. Slowly the troops come out of the trenches, greeting each other and agreeing to a truce for the evening, which spreads into the next day as they play soccer and share photos of each other’s families. This is the story of the power of love, the Prince of Peace, interrupting even the Great War. For a short time, opposing sides saw what really mattered and what was exposed as futile. A true Christmas tale exposing the sham of war with the power of the greatest Love of all.

– NILS VON KALM

 

DAY 7

Elf  (2003)
Sometimes, heading home for the holidays can turn into an adventure filled with reconciliation and wonder we never knew we needed. That’s certainly the case with Elf, a blockbuster comedy that shows not just the joy of finding your tribe, but the innocence of Christmas too often taken for granted. Buddy (Will Ferrell) knows something isn’t quite right in Santa’s workshop. He doesn’t fit the chairs like the other elves do, though he loves his North Pole family almost as much as he loves candy canes and toys. But when he learns he’s actually a human who, as a baby at an orphanage, accidently crawled into one of Santa’s Christmas Eve sleighs, he sets out to find his real family. He arrives in New York City (of course) and discovers his father (James Caan) has been on Santa’s naughty list for years. Buddy goes to work at a department store where he is smitten with Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), an unenthusiastic fellow employee who’s lost sight of the meaning of Christmas. Confronted with the challenge of convincing both that Santa is real, Buddy sets off for Central Park on Christmas Eve to get Santa’s help. What happens is a quirky but loveable story of happy endings, Christmas cheer and Ferrell in one of his best roles ever.  

– JO KADLECEK

 

DAY 6

Christmas Jars (2020)
Based on Jason F Wright‘s best-selling book of the same name, this film tells the story of 22-year-old Hope Jensen (played by Jeni Ross), a reporter in small-town America who’s going through some tough times when she finds a jar filled with cash left on her doorstep. That sets her off on a journey to find out who dropped off the ‘Christmas Jar’ and leads her to the family behind the idea. There’s romance, humour and some mystery in what is an uplifting film, the story of which drew on some real-life aspects of writer Wright’s life. And with it comes the chance to put your faith into action by taking part in the ‘Christmas Jars’ movement and looking at how you can bless others this Christmas by anonymously giving away some ‘Christmas Jars’ of your own. 

– DAVID ADAMS

 

DAY 5

Nativity! (2009)
Paul Maddens (Martin Freeman) is a man on the edge. The St Bernadette’s Catholic School primary teacher hates Christmas as it reminds him of when his girlfriend left him to go to Hollywood. This doesn’t stop his principal, however, from allocating him the job of directing the annual nativity play in competition with his ex-best friend whose school gets five star reviews every year. With the help of his teacher’s aide, the irrepressible Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton), who is more child-like than some of the delightful and talented children in the class, Mr Maddens goes on a journey of renewal. When he has to deal with the consequences of a spontaneous lie, where he says a big Hollywood producer is coming to see the play, Mr Maddens learns the importance of commitment to his students and getting the story of the nativity out to, not just the school community, but the whole town. Despite the typical drawbacks that can occur in a performance with children and animals, including a massive blackout, past hurts are healed, parents are made proud and the baby Jesus is honoured. Directed by Debbie Isitt, this is a little pocket of stardust.

– SAMANTHA ELLEY

 

DAY 4

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (2005)
It may be a surprise to some that this is a Christmas film, but like CS Lewis book of the same name, this film centres on the adventures of the four Pevensie children – Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) – in the fantastical land of Narnia. Thanks to the evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton), the land is stuck in a perpetual state of winter while never reaching Christmas but together with the aid of the untamable lion Aslan and those Narnians trying to end the White Witch’s reign, including the at first  conflicted Mr Tumnus and the Beavers, the children set about defeating the Queen and bringing life back to world that had long gone cold. The story includes, of course, a representation of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus – the heart of the Christian faith – and, as such, gets right to the centre of what Christmas is really all about – the birth of the Saviour. Director and co-writer Andrew Adamson does a beautiful job of recreating this seminal book and those who enjoy the film can go on to watch the sequels, 2008’s Prince Caspian and 2010’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. A delight. 

– DAVID ADAMS

 

DAY 3

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
A Christmas story behind the story, The Man Who Invented Christmas is an warm-hearted take on the creation of the iconic Charles Dicken’s novel, A Christmas Carol (in the process, of course, retelling the story itself). Having reached the heights of acclaim with Oliver Twist and a breakthrough American tour, Dickens (played by Dan Stevens) returns home to London where, facing financial difficulties and three flops in a row, he struggles to come up with another book that finds such success. His answer is to write a Christmas story in just a couple of months – a tall order – and the film charts how he looked to inspiration to events – including hard times in his childhood – in his own life to do so. The result is, of course, destined to be a literary classic but that’s very much uncertain throughout this film in which Dickens himself must recapture what’s important in his life (and discard what’s not). Stevens does a great job in the role of Dickens and is ably supported by a cast which includes Morfydd Clark, Ian McNeice, Miriam Margolyes and Jonathan Pryce as Dickens’ father. A story of forgiveness and the importance of human relationships.

– DAVID ADAMS

 

DAY 2

Babette’s Feast (1987)
Based on Isak Dineson’s (author of Out of Africa) 1950s short story, Babette’s Feast won the 1988 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Even with English subtitles, its visual backdrop and lighting frames this beautiful story with meaning that lingers long after the credits. It is a profound parable of what happens when art meets religion. The story takes place in the 17th century in a remote Danish fishing village run by a pious religious sect. They love God and are devout in their faith but when the leader of this little community dies, his daughters (Bodil Kjer, Birgitte Federspiel) must carry on his work, daily taking fish soup and ale bread to the needy. One night in the middle of a storm, a stranger named Babette (Stephane Audran) knocks on their door and the sisters learn that she has taken the last ship from France, escaping the revolution. They kindly take her in, giving her chores and bit by bit the fish soup and ale bread become tastier. When it comes time for the anniversary of their father’s passing, the sisters agree to Babette’s request to cook dinner for the villagers. Her extravagance is troubling at first for the pious community but soon they realise that loving one’s neighbour can be more delicious than they ever imagined. And for Babette, a culinary artist, it is both nourishing and satisfying to use her gifts for others. 

– JO KADLECEK

 

DAY 1

Miracle on 34th Street (1947/1994)

When the “real’ Kris Kringle is hired by event director, Doris Walker, as the Macy’s department store Santa Claus, he brings a generosity and kindness that challenges the commercialism and cynicism of the retail driven holiday season. Doris is a pragmatic single mother who has raised her daughter Susan to not believe in fairy tales or Santa Clause and she has hardened her heart to faith and love. Doubt over Kringle’s identity escalates to accusations of delusion and lunacy. Ultimately Santa is put on trial where Kris Kringle has to be proven real in the Supreme Court. Disney+ is streaming both the 1947 black and white original and the 1994 remake. The 1994 version adds an unnecessary corporate takeover plot and plays up the melodrama of the romance story line. The 1947 film is timeless in its charm and remains the preferred choice out of the two. What begins in both as a comedy of mistaken identities transforms into a courtroom drama where faith and belief are on trial. The miracle that comes, is the transformation of hardened hearts to actually believe in Kringle and the values he represents – generosity, kindness, hope and love.

– MARCUS CHEONG

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