By: Russ Matthews
When The Greatest Showman opened, many may have wondered how pop music would work in a period piece about P.T. Barnum at the turn of the century.
Yet, Hugh Jackman’s film became one of the biggest hits of 2017. The same concerns may cross the minds of audiences who wonder how Jesus’ birth could be made into a musical that includes modern tunes and dance sequences. A story beloved by generations of Christians may be too much for writer/director Adam Anders to appease the faithful while drawing new fans to one of history’s most significant celebrations.
Since there is much left to the imagination in the story of the Saviour’s birth, Anders and company must fill in the gaps of this familiar storyline. They keep all of the pillars of the tale, including the virgin birth, the angel Gabriel (Lecrae), Mary (Fiona Palomo) and Joseph (Milo Manheim), the three magi, King Herod (Antonio Banderas), and the journey to Bethlehem. Yet, there is much to add to the narrative to fill a feature-length film, and this comes in the form of dance numbers, modern songs, and a mischievous donkey named Fig. Reminiscent of the church musicals that come around every Christmas, but one with a bigger budget and talent that extends beyond the ladies auxiliary.
Over the years, viewers have been given animated adaptations of the Jesus birth, countless dramatic interpretations that have received varied praise, and the Nativity scene has made a showing in numerous Christmas movies. The question is not why a musical has been made about Mary and Joseph’s journey, but why it hasn’t been made earlier. Granted, the theological and emotional minefield that a production like this must experience goes without saying, and many will never be fully satisfied with its portrayal of the Bible’s account. Still, fans of Jesus’ story and musicals may be pleasantly surprised by this Affirm studio production.
Those who need a reverent tone to any depiction of the Bible’s narratives may want to give this film a pass. Especially if they are uncomfortable with the creative license taken with these historical accounts. For those on the other side of the entertainment spectrum who enjoy their favourite Biblical stories being accessible to modern audiences and want to introduce their friends and family to these stories, The Journey to Bethlehem is the film for you. Admittedly, a ‘cheese’ factor in this film is expected with any musical adaptation of life. Still, this film is respectful enough of the original test to make it worth the experience. There is humour, quality musical numbers, and a solid cast to give this a professional shine that honours Jesus’ story and will open the door to many conversations about this fantastic true story.
Reel Dialogue: THE DARK SIDE OF CHRISTMAS
How does the birth of Jesus fit into what we know of the political climate and rulers of the first century? Did Christmas really happen?
In this series of five talks, Al Stewart is looking at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, and taking a serious and historical look at Christmas and the implications of the claims being made about the birth of Jesus.
This talk focusses on the threat that Jesus posed to King Herod’s reign, the stars that prophesied a new King and Herod’s barbaric response.
Article supplied with thanks to City Bible Forum.
All images: Movie stills
About the author: Russ Matthews is a film critic at City Bible Forum and Reel Dialogue. He has a passion for film and sparking spiritual conversations.