Heartwarming but confused: movie review of ‘The Christmas Candle’

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The Christmas Candle is something of a parable adapted from Max Lucado’s novel of the same name. Set in 1890, at the dawn of the electric age, the movie centres on a village in the English countryside. Town legend has it that every 25 years an angel grants a miracle to the villager who finds themselves with the so-called ‘Christmas Candle’.

A new reverend and ex-Salvation Army Minister from London (Hans Matheson, Sherlock Holmes) takes up the parish and sets about extinguishing the candle myth in an effort to galvanise people’s energy into helping one another rather than wishing on a prayer.

Unsurprisingly, he comes up against the ire of locals as he breaks with a centuries’ old tradition. But as the movie goes on, he finds that God may well make extraordinary things happen in an ordinary town through the humble candle.

For lovers of period dramas like Downton Abbey, Cranford and all the Austen classics this movie holds great potential; a beautiful pre-industrial setting and a few interesting storylines. The cast is also strong and includes UK X-Factor winner Susan Boyle who sings the movie’s theme song, as well as John Hannah (The Mummy, Sliding Doors), Sylvester McCoy (The Hobbit), Lesley Manville (North&South, Cranford) and Samantha Barks (Les Miserables). But it’s a star cast for what is sadly an unspectacular movie. While heart-warming and quaint, it’s not an instant classic, let down by under-developed characters and a less than satisfying message.

As the Reverend learns his scepticism about the Christmas candle is unfounded, the question is: what are we to take away from the film? To be superstitious about traditions? To pray using candles? It seems the message is to have faith, but faith in what? That God can work through anything, even a strange old legend? Perhaps, but in it all, the gospel isn’t clear. There are scenes in the church where the Reverend delivers Advent sermons and it is in these moments the gospel is clearest. Mostly though, it is lost in the candle’s magic, the story of which dominates the film.

Max Lucado has told the NY Times the message of his novel is that, “no matter how common you are, and no matter how simple you are, God has a plan and ability to come into our world and do something unusual.” He’s right, God can come into our world and do something unusual, but the film seems to suggest that with enough faith, all your desires for healing and happiness on earth will be fulfilled. For the unbeliever watching this film, its content would most likely be viewed as a nice Christmas story set on the cusp of the industrial revolution, to be put on the shelf alongside Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I can’t help but feel it could’ve been more.

The Christmas Candle is being distributed by Heritage Films and is in cinemas now. Heritage has teamed up with the Salvos to use to the film as a fundraiser for their Christmas appeal. The Salvos feature in the film as the good samaritans helping the poor in wintry conditions. To donate to the Salvos Christmas Appeal, go here.