Release Date: November 22, 2013
Rating: PG  (mild thematic elements)
Genre: Family
Run Time: 100 minutes
Director: John Stephenson
Cast: Hans Matheson, Samantha Barks, Lesley Manville, Sylvester McCoy, James Cosmo, John Hannah, Susan Boyle

Just in time for the holidays comes a Christmas movie about the real meaning of Christmas (how long has it been since we had one of those?). Based on a beloved book by master storyteller Max Lucado, The Christmas Candle is a beautiful Christmas card of a film that may well become a holiday classic.

The story follows David Richmond (Hans Matheson), a progressive young pastor whose faith has taken some hard knocks. Through no real fault of his own—though surely with a little divine intervention—David finds himself ensconced as the new vicar of Gladbury, home of the famous "Christmas candle." At least, it's famous amongst the villagers, though not so much elsewhere.

Every twenty-five years, the story goes, an angel visits the village candle shop and touches one particular candle. When the recipient of this special candle follows instructions to "light it and pray," their prayer is sure to be answered before Christmas Eve. The townsfolk—with the exception of the lovely (and single) skeptic Emily Barstow (Samantha Barks, Les Misérables)—are convinced this is true. Pastor David? Not so much. This is 1890, for pity's sake, the dawn of the electric age. Who needs candles when light can be had at the flip of a switch? Who needs miracles when we can create them ourselves?

The residents of Gladbury need them, that's who—and this includes their feisty new preacher. Think you know where all this is going? Think again; one of the many charms of this film is the number of twists and turns along the way. Another delight is the relationship between the candlemaker (Sylvester McCoy, The Hobbit) and his wife (Lesley Manville, Romeo and Juliet), who are clearly a match made in heaven. They dither over what to do when they lose track of the specially-blessed candle the entire village is hoping to receive. They also stand firm in their faith when David tries to convince them that these days God doesn't use angels and miracles. As is often the case, neither is completely right or wrong. Both preacher and candlemaker want God's best for the other, they simply don't agree on what that is.

Max Lucado's The Christmas Candle from echolightstudios on GodTube.

Downton Abbey fans will enjoy the period flavor of the piece; motorcars and lightbulbs are still novelties to these folk. The look of the film is exquisite, thanks in large part to Mike Brewster (Cinematography), whose experience on the Harry Potter movies can be seen in the almost magical look of Gladbury and its surroundings. The setting is Masterpiece Theater-worthy and so is most of the cast, many of whom will be familiar to PBS viewers. Max Lucado fans who keep a sharp eye out will even catch a glimpse of the author in a brief cameo (as Max likes to say, "I do my own stunts").

Making her big-screen debut in The Christmas Candle is Susan Boyle, the British singer who became a YouTube sensation after her appearance on Britain's Got Talent. She and her film husband are another sweet couple of Gladbury-ites. Boyle's acting is serviceable enough and she does raise her beautiful voice in song more than once, in appropriate and touching moments.

Screenwriter Candace Lee was a film school student when she first encountered The Christmas Candle story. It led her to pray for the opportunity to make movies like this, and years later she and co-writer Eric Newman did just that. Once they began, the script came together in just a few weeks of "talking in bad British accents and drinking a lot of coffee." Now that script has become an inspirational film that doesn’t feel like the typical "Christian movie." It never sinks into schmaltz, has plenty of humor and romance, and is the perfect movie to take your family. Even—especially—those family members whose skepticism mirrors David's.

As Rick Santorum, CEO of EchoLight Studios, says, The Christmas Candle serves to remind us that "Christmas is not just about reindeer and shopping, it's about hope and miracles." Here's hoping The Christmas Candle isn't just a Christmas miracle, but one of many high-quality, faith-based films to come.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: None
  • Language/Profanity: None
  • Sex/Nudity: A young, unmarried woman is turned out on the street because she's pregnant
  • Violent/Intense: A carriage accident. There's a disaster inside a building and people are in danger of being trampled; a man falls and is injured. A man dies.
  • Spiritual Themes: Does God still work miracles in the modern age? How much of what we're asking God to do is something we could be doing ourselves?

Publication date: November 22, 2013