Review of the Nativity

BBC Nativity Thomas Gabriel
BBC Nativity - Wise men, Shepherd, Mary, Joseph and Jesus

Nativity Scene

You always take your life into your hands when viewing a production on a religious theme. There is a tendency to either drag the story kicking and screaming away from its historical roots or to be slavish in following the text. This latter is difficult given the lack of dialogue in the Bible. It wasn’t written as a dramatised novel.

Therefore there is always interpretation involved in doing things like this. The question is what prejudices (and we all have them) are brought to bear. The BBC Easter production done a few years ago I found so dreadful that I couldn’t watch all of it!

One of the scenes that really did it for me was the cleansing of the temple where Jesus opens a caged dove letting it go (just the one) and looking knowingly at the High Priest who decides that Jesus is therefore too much of a threat and decides he must die. Anyway enough of past scars. how about this one?

Well I must say that Tony Jordan, the writer, and the BBC have done brilliantly. I can live with the blue dress (5th century Byzantine artistic interpretation to represent royalty) and the Magi (there are only three presents mentioned we don’t know how many or their names, and that in the gospel they go to Jerusalem and Herod), and the inn (they would most likely have stayed in a house – the churches in the middle east have interpreted it that way) and several other things along the same lines. These passed me by.

What was captured so brilliantly was the whole drama of it. The sense of going outside of a comfy tale and imagining the impact of what happened. The people stop becoming plaster saints and become real human beings, fallible, uncertain, worried, scared. Just like the rest of us.

BBC Nativity Mary being held by Joseph


Tatiana Maslany portrayed the young Mary with great ability. Her vulnerability and strength of character came through so well. The scene towards the end where Joseph goes to find a midwife captures the isolation and pain and fear so well. The programmes showed convincingly how she went from a care-free girl to being the mother of Jesus.

Joseph comes through as a man of great moral courage as well as being convoluted by doubt and anger.  His winning through, although we don’t really doubt it, was played with conviction and understandable angst.

BBC Nativity Thomas Gabriel

Thomas & Gabriel

I loved the idea of Thomas playing a sceptic, an oppressed person struggling with the idea of God who can say “I don’t know who God is anymore”. I liked the way that the Archangel Gabriel is not portrayed as overwhelming light that automatically stops doubt or questions.

I love the struggle and the doubts and the fears. And within it all the coming of the Son of God. A baby. The promised Messiah.

Tony Jordan was asked if he had thought of downplaying the Virgin Birth:

“If you accept that Jesus is Son of God, why would you not believe that Mary was a virgin, and that God must have had some hand in the impregnation.

”Quite how – whether it was a whiff of steam that came through the nostrils and into the semen, or whatever – is beyond my comprehension, but to me, as a sequence of events, it makes perfect sense.”

Tony Jordan also said (in the Telegraph):

The only thing I know for sure is that the words I read as coming from Jesus Christ are the most truthful thing I have ever heard. As a blueprint for mankind, it is so smart that it couldn’t even have come from a clever philosopher. Who would have been smart enough to say ‘He who is without sin cast the first stone’? Wow! That’s pretty cool.”

BBC Nativity Mary Joseph Jesus

Mary, Joseph & Jesus

It all clicks for Thomas, the shepherd, when he is told that the Messiah comes for someone such as him. I suspect that Thomas reflects Tony Jordan’s own journey. A slightly gritty, emotional re-telling of the Nativity that has an emotional core to it that makes it the best nativity I have seen. Go see it on iplayer if you haven’t seen it yet.


5 comments on “Review of the Nativity

  1. Rosie Edser
    December 25, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    Really enjoyed it! Liked the emphasis on how pregnant unmaried Mary would have been regarded by her society and also the ‘peace and love within’ she found.

    Was itching for Joseph to get on with having his dream-that-makes-him-believe-Mary! Of course when it came it wasn’t magic… he still had to work through his doubts and make an active decision to support Mary. Thought-provolking stuff and neither hagiography nor boring.

  2. Rosie Edser
    January 2, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    Hi people we’ve just emailed the BBC to express appreciation.
    the e-mail address to use for sending in your feedback is:

  3. Will Cookson
    January 2, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Great idea Rosie. Its easy to complain and not praise.


  1. A New Nativity production on the BBC | Will Cookson's Blog - December 28, 2010

    […] Update: I have now done a review of it. […]

  2. Narnia and other “Christian” Films | Will Cookson's Blog - January 17, 2011

    […] classification of Christian film is far too limited. There are no doubt some films, such as the BBC’s Nativity, which are obviously Christian. But that still shouldn’t be sufficient for us who are […]

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