Film Review: 'Journey To Bethlehem'

Author: Kristina Cooper

Film Review: 'Journey To Bethlehem'

Nativity musical 'Journey To Bethlehem' by 'Glee' Director Adam Anders is reviewed by Kristina Cooper.

It is very hard to do religious themed films well and get the tone right. “Journey to Bethlehem”, a musical about the birth of Christ, has its heart in the right place but I think it will be hard to find an audience. It has come from the imagination of Adam Anders, a well-known Swedish composer and musical producer, who was one of the people involved in the successful TV show Glee, about a high school group of misfits who sing and dance.

Although I have never watched Glee, it feels like the film has transported the same cast of American high school teens to 1st century Palestine. The film is a very post-modern mix.  All the cast have American accents and contemporary values.

Mary is portrayed as a feisty teenager who wants to marry for love and be a teacher, rather than have an arranged marriage with Joseph. He looks every inch the high school heartthrob, and there is certainly no sign of any carpentry, as the two flirt in the marketplace before they find out their true identities.

Dramatic Licence

The plot roughly sticks to the biblical story-with a bit of dramatic licence-but is all over the place.  It feels a bit like a religiously themed pantomime, with Antonio Banderas playing King Herod, the villain, all snarls and black eye liner. Angel Gabriel is played by Christian rapper, Lecrae, materialises and dematerialises in his huge sequinned cape like a member of the Star Ship Enterprise beaming down for a Halloween party to tell Mary that she is to become the Mother of God. There is no asking her in this version. She doesn’t have much option.  

The wise men are played for laughs and Balthazar, the fat one played by Omid Djalili, steals the show with his quips,  timing and googles. The real star, however, is Mary’s donkey, who is very cute and saves the day on more than one occasion.

Watch the trailer for "Journey To Bethlehem" here:


I managed to sit through the film, but I felt I was not really the target audience. I think probably primary school children would enjoy it, but even these might be a bit too sophisticated these days for the tale.

Personally I think the producers would have been better eschewing the phoney Palestine setting, and instead going the whole hog, and re-imagining the story in contemporary Los Angeles. There are still some traditional religious communities today who have arranged marriages, and Mary’s predicament of becoming pregnant outside wedlock would resonate.

And what Mary claims to have happened to her – that God has fathered a child within her womb - would be an even more unbelievable thing to accept in contemporary LA than it was back in 1st Century Palestine. As it is, this production doesn’t offer any new insights about the greatest story ever told, but it is harmless enough. At least the producers risked tackling the Christmas story, at a time when religious sensibility and knowledge is being eroded more and more from the culture. But another Chosen it is not.

  • Journey to Bethlehem is out in cinemas on 17th November.

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