A new Christian film is in cinemas on 17th November, and I hope you’ll watch it! Featuring a few famous faces, including Antonio Banderas as Herod (yes, that is a fake chest!), ‘Journey to Bethlehem’ is a gorgeous, fun, live-action musical retelling of the nativity story. It’s exciting to see Christian films making it to the big screen, and this one is a great choice if you’re looking for something all the family will enjoy.
There’s plenty to discuss – director Adam Anders makes no secret that he has used artistic license to bring the story to life – and plenty to entertain the whole family. If you like Beauty and the Beast, Tangled, Glee, Hamilton, High School Musical, Aladdin and Prince of Egypt, you’ll see similarities and enjoy this film for the same reasons. The songs are catchy, blending traditional carols and new pop songs. There is something for everyone and plenty of scope for lively discussion afterwards.
If you think the film allows for a small group night out or some children’s work at church, there’s a guide here, with posters, video clips and discussion questions.
The story moves quickly through the use of dreams, journeys and songs. We see events play out from both Mary and Joseph’s points of view, and the writer has drawn from history to introduce a troubled character we don’t see mentioned in the gospels: Herod’s son, Antimater.
His song, ‘In My Blood’ sees him grapple with his conscience, background, inheritance, and childhood. We can identify with his journey as he questions whether he is beyond forgiveness. There is a decisive moment in the stable when Mary has the opportunity to tell him that Jesus has come to save the lost. Hear more about Herod’s son and why this was Adam Ander’s favourite character in this interview on Premier Christian Radio.
Some people will struggle with the plotline straying from the Biblical narrative. Mary and Joseph have a more modern-seeming relationship, and there isn’t an attempt to rectify the misunderstandings we’ve sung in Christmas carols over the centuries (e.g. number of wise men, timing of their arrival, modes of travel, appearance of the manager). But there is an emphasis on personal faith, studying the scriptures, forgiveness, and embracing the journey. In defence of the film (and all Nativity plays everywhere), there is not much detail in the scriptures, and much historical research has gone into this film to set it in context. (At least there isn’t an octopus in the stable.)
I loved looking out for symbolism and attention to detail. In typical Disney Princess style, Mary has an animal sidekick, a pet donkey called Fig.
In the Bible, donkeys represent peace and humility, and figs symbolise goodness. Dates (gobbled up in this film by one of the comic trio making up the clownish three wise men) are a symbol of patience. This fruit represents good things coming to those who wait.*
There’s no need to wait any longer for the film though, and I don’t recommend you do, in case it only runs for a short time in cinemas. A quick search reveals it’s showing at all mainstream cinemas this weekend, and I’m excited to think of the thousands of pairs of eyes watching the greatest story of all time on the big screen. Let’s pray it stirs curiosity in many hearts and people seek a personal relationship with Jesus this Christmas.
* God of All Things: Rediscovering the Sacred in an Everyday World by pastor and author Andrew Wilson.