Film Review: The Christmas Candle

Only the most diehard fans of holiday pablum will be able to swallow this Bible-banging hunk of whimsy.

It's 1890 and in the picturesque village of Gladbury, the citizens hold fast to their belief in the local legend of the Christmas candle. Supposedly an angel blesses it every quarter century and the person who lights it on Christmas Eve will be, in turn, blessed by a miracle. But the new minister, David Richmond (Hans Matheson), who is grieving over the deaths of his wife and child and therefore is no believer in miracles, has little use for such fairytales. He counsels his following to be kind to one another, instead of fanatically believing in such nonsense. Richmond meets Emily (Samantha Barks), who is no believer of any sort herself and has a dying father (John Hannah). A wary relationship between the two strikes up, as certain hardships faced by the villagers call for more and more blind faith.

Based on a novel by Max Lucado and directed by John Stephenson, The Christmas Candle strives mightily for holiday classic status, with its sub-Dickensian period atmosphere and moral of human goodness overcoming adversity. Although handsomely photographed and designed, its lack of truly involving characters and its eternal jawing about that infernal Christmas candle do not generate much viewer interest. There's a wealth of cutesy, fubsy eccentrics populating Gladbury, but they seem little more than blustering cartoons. Of course, you know the thing will build to one of those cathartic, life-affirming climaxes like the one in It's a Wonderful Life, and, sure enough, a big cornball scene in the church has the villagers proudly standing up and announcing what miracles have indeed befallen them as a (not always) direct result of that hunk of wax.

Afflicted with the worst male hairdo since Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, Matheson is unable to make you warm to the insufferably priggish Richmond, but Barks evinces some attractive spirit. TV singing sensation Susan Boyle pops up in a small role, warbles a bit, and is predictably homely and sweeter than sugar, in a bonnet.