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An all-singing, all-dancing, teenfriendly re-telling of the Greatest Story

Journey to Bethlehem is now screening in select cinemas nationwide.

Journey to Bethlehem (PG, 99 mins) Directed by Adam Anders Reviewed by Graeme Tuckett *** ½

Let nobody accuse my gaffer James Croot of not having a sense of humour. James, bless him, grew up in a Christian household with a lay-preacher Dad, and even – this is true – was known at an early age to perform in musicals that he and his intermediate and high school buddies devised and workshopped.

Whereas, I am the belligerently atheist off-spring of an alcoholic car salesman with a side-hustle as an astrologer – and am widely known for having a singing voice like a duck in a long-drop.

So, when it came time to divvy up the reviewing duties for November, who do you think got assigned Journey To Bethlehem, the nativity musical? Gawd, I love this job.

Journey To Bethlehem is a debut feature from Swedish super-producer and music mogul Adam Anders. Anders is one of the world's top hit-makers.

He is exactly the person you turn to if you need to churn the algorithms of the American teen market with some saccharine banger that will sell a bajillion downloads and all the associated merch by which we measure "the charts" now.

Anders has his fragrant fingers all over the careers of The Backstreet Boys, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, The Jonas Brothers and a dozen others. And now Anders has decided to hitch his undoubted talent – and some millions of his own cash – to a passion project of his own. An all-singing, all-dancing, teenfriendly retelling of the Greatest Story Ever Told (TM).

And to be fair, if that was Anders' self-imposed brief, then he has definitely succeeded. Journey To Bethlehem is perky, tuneful, relentlessly cheery and basically impossible to completely dislike.

In the leads, Fiona Palomo (Outer Banks) and Milo Manheim (Zombies) are fine as Mary and Joseph, meeting-cute in a fruit stall on the day they each are told they will be marrying strangers – and eventually delighted that the "strangers" turn out to be each other. Christian rapper Lecrae is similarly fine as the angel Gabriel.

In one of the film's best and funniest scenes, we meet Gabriel as he is nervously rehearsing his first conversation with Mary, wondering how she might react when he tells her the "good news", that the Lord God Almighty has decided to pop a bun in her oven and you'll-be-fine-explaining-that-to-yournew-husband-won't-you?

Stealing the show, of course, is Antonio Banderas – no, really – dialling in a King Herod who could have stepped straight out of Jesus Christ Superstar, blowing the roof off whenever the script lets him.

Next to Banderas, the other highlight here is the casting of the Iranian/British comedian Omid Djalili as one of the three wise men. Djalili brings an Alexei Saylelike presence to the film, riffing on lines, ad-libbing like mad and just generally sending up the absurdity of the project, even as he adds considerably to its enjoyment.

If Glee-does-The-Nativity sounds like your idea of a good way to spend an hour-and-a-half, then Journey To Bethlehem is going to be right in your wheelhouse.

The only question I have is, why the one person I know who might absolutely have loved it, decided to send me along instead? Lolz.

Weekend | Entertainment




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