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Delivering its religious themes with a Dickensian flavor,The Christmas Miracle is holiday treacle at its most old-fashioned. This 1890-set tale of a progressive minister who finds himself at odds with his new congregation’s belief in a blessed, miracle-producing candle certainly has a positive message about relying on good deeds rather than divine intervention. But its hopelessly stodgy execution will test the patience of even the most enthusiastic audiences for faith-based films. The presence of chart-topping vocalist Susan Boyle in her film debut adds a curiosity factor that might add to its box-office appeal.
Based on Max Lucado’s novel, the film takes place in the fictional village of Gladbury, located deep in the English countryside. The residents have long believed in the legend of the Christmas Candle, supposedly blessed by an angel every twenty-five years. The story goes that whoever lights it on Christmas Eve will receive a miracle, and accordingly the villagers deliver their Christmas wishes to the candlemaker and his wife (Sylvester McCoy, Leslie Manville) in the hopes of receiving it.
But their new minister, David Richmond (Hans Matheson), has little use for such fairy tales. Disillusioned by the deaths of his wife and young child, he professes to have no belief in miracles and instead encourages the villagers to perform acts of kindness in order to achieve divine grace. He finds an ally and eventual romantic interest in the form of the equally skeptical Emily (Samantha Barks, Les Miserables), whose father (John Hannah) is deathly ill.
Mixing story elements both mundane (the minister tries to introduce new-fangled electricity to the village) and melodramatic (a pregnant woman is trapped in an overturned carriage during a winter storm), The Christmas Candle suffers from its languid pacing and surfeit of inspirational messages. Although the period costumes and settings are handsome enough, its budgetary limitations are revealed through cheesy special effects that fail to pass muster on the big screen.
The performances are mostly decent save for the hopelessly stiff Boyle, who at least gets to sing a few tunes. But for all the religious passion on display, director John Stephenson is unable to infuse the proceedings with anything more than a Hallmark Hall of Fame-style dullness.
For the record, the film is being released by the family film-oriented EchoLight Studios, whose CEO is none other than former senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
Opens Nov. 22 (EchoLight Studios)
Production: Pinewood Studios, Big Book Media, Impact Productions
Cast: Hans Matheson, Samantha Banks, Lesley Manville, Sylverster McCoy, James Cosmo, Susan Boyle, Barbara Flynn, John Hannah
Director: John Stephenson
Screenwriters: Candace Lee, Eric Newman
Producers: Tom Newman, Hannah Leader
Executive producers: Steve Christian, Brian Lockhart, Huw Penallt Jones
Director of photography: Michael Bruster
Editor: Emma E. Hickox
Production designer: Tony Noble
Costume designer: Pam Downe
Composer: Tim Atack
Rated PG, 100 min.
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