The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Christmas Candle

Every year, it seems that we get at least one or two Christmas movies. Rarely, though, are they Christian in nature. Such films typically extol virtues of peace, togetherness, and unity, but good luck hearing the name of Christ invoked. That's not a criticism, just an observation. The larger point to be made here is that there's presumably a market for explicitly Christian Christmas films. It doesn't take a huge stretch of the imagination to assume that people of faith might be interested in holiday entertainment that jibes with the season being celebrated. The Christmas Candle helps to fill this void. Unabashedly religious in nature, yet also competent in storytelling, it is a fine example of what the faith film genre, which has been making increasing inroads into the mainstream, can do.

Set in 1890, Hans Matheson plays David Richmond, a pastor who accepts a position at a church in the tiny British village of Gladbury. Upon his arrival, he discovers that the village holds a very special ritual. Every year, the local candlemaker, Edward Haddington (Sylvester McCoy), and his wife Bea (Lesley Manville) are visited by an angel, who touches one of their products. The person who lights this candle and prays receives a miracle. David is skeptical of this, believing it gives townsfolk false hope. In fact, he wants to bring Gladbury into the modern age by doing away with candles altogether and installing those newfangled electric lights in the church. Most everyone disapproves of his plan, save for one young woman named Emily Barstow (Les Miserables' Samantha Barks) with a sickly father (John Hannah). During the holiday season, the Christmas Candle goes missing, an event that subsequently reveals a miracle of a whole new sort to Gladbury.

In the last decade, faith films have moved out of church basements and into multiplexes. Some have done rather good business. The problem for many, though, has been quality, with a majority of them focusing intently on delivering the message at the expense of telling the story. The Christmas Candle avoids this problem by starting off with an already established tale, best-selling author Max Lucado's 2006 novel. Lucado created a traditional three-act plot and a handful of reasonably well-developed characters, so the movie directed by John Stephenson, a former supervisor at Jim Henson's Creature Shop simply has to follow its lead. The Christian themes are smoothly integrated, given that it's set at Christmas and involves both a church and a pastor. They feel natural, as opposed to bombastic. More importantly, they are moving. The Christmas Candle is both a nice holiday tale and a touching mediation on the value of using one's faith to create everyday miracles.

There is nothing hip or edgy about the filmmaking here. The Christmas Candle has a decidedly Hallmark Hall of Fame-y feel to it. Some of the visual effects are also a bit unconvincing, largely because the movie clearly wasn't a big-budget production. Additionally, singer Susan Boyle, who plays one of Gladbury's citizens, looks woefully uncomfortable on camera. Fortunately, she sings a few times. Audiences seeking a movie that reflects their faith will almost certainly overlook these minor flaws, though. The Christmas Candle has a delightfully seasonal story, some good performances (especially from McCoy and Manville), a gentle sense of humor, and a genuinely uplifting spirit. If you want to find the real meaning of Christmas at the movies over the holidays, this film will give you exactly what you want, in a package that's as uncynical as it is entertaining.

( out of four)

The Christmas Candle is rated PG for some thematic material. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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