The Christmas Candle
2013, PG, 100 min. Directed by John Stephenson. Starring Hans Matheson, Samantha Barks, Lesley Manville, John Hannah, Susan Boyle, Sylvester McCoy, James Cosmo.
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., Nov. 22, 2013
The Christmas Candle is not only as picturesque and beautiful as a holiday card but also just as two-dimensionally flat. In a small, English countryside village, there is a recurring holiday miracle every 25 years in which a single candle produced in the local candlemaker’s shop is blessed by an angel. Whoever gets this legendary candle will have their wish granted after lighting it.
The film is set in 1890 as a new minister, David Richmond (Matheson), arrives in the village. His own faith conflicted, Richmond has little use for the town’s thrilled expectation of the candle, thinking miracles come more from how people treat and help each other. In this he is aided by a beautiful local skeptic and champion of change, Emily Barstow (Barks).
Based on bestselling author Max Lucado’s novel, the film tackles questions of faith and belief, as well as the conflict between tradition and modern innovation, both in religion and life. There is also a timely subplot about the minister’s disastrous attempt to switch the church from candle illumination to electric light bulbs. A confused mishmash of testaments to the importance of good acts and neighborly actions vs. the power of blind spiritual faith, The Christmas Candle comes out in favor of them all. Not surprisingly, unfolding events inspire both the minister and Barstow, and restore their faith. Well-made and quite beautiful, the film features a strong cast – though Susan Boyle, a lovely singer, is not much of an actress.
The film is a release by former Sen. Rick Santorum’s EchoLight Studios. When the film was introduced before the screening, the speaker noted that Santorum had left the Senate to produce films like this – although as I recall, his departure was due to having been soundly defeated in his run for re-election. It would be misleading to pretend anything but that I am more cynic than believer, but even if I resist the obvious string-tugging of a classic holiday-based tale, I love being cinematically swept along. This film just doesn’t do it. Although at times it seems to be building emotional momentum, by the end it falls flat – tripped by its conflicting ambitions, overload of metaphoric events, and lack of powerful catharsis.