‘The Christmas Candle’: It seldom lights up, despite lively cast
By MARY HOULIHAN For Sun-Times Media November 21, 2013 9:34PM
Hans Matheson and Samantha Barks have good chemistry.
‘THE CHRISTMAS CANDLE’ ★★1⁄2
Rev. David Richmond Hans Matheson
Emily Barstow Samantha Barks
Bea Haddington Lesley Manville
Edward Haddington Sylvester McCoy
Echolight Studios presents a film directed by John Stephenson and written by Candace Lee and Eric Newman, based on a book by Max Lucado. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated PG (for mild thematic elements). Opens Friday at local theaters.
Updated: December 23, 2013 12:46PM
The latest example of faith-based filmmaking comes in the form of a holiday movie, “The Christmas Candle,” based on Christian author Max Lucado’s best-selling novel and made in part by former Sen. Rick Santorum’s Echolight Studios.
Set in Victorian times in Gladbury, a village in the English Cotswolds, the story is driven by an ancient legend: Every 25 years an angel visits the village candlemaker and touches a single candle. It is then bestowed on someone suffering a hardship who receives a miracle on Christmas Eve. Everyone in the village hopes to own that candle, but the legend is about to be upended by a mixup and a nonbeliever.
Into this country setting comes the Rev. David Richmond (nicely played by Scottish actor Hans Matheson), a young London preacher who is struggling to recover from the death of his wife and child. His beliefs are pragmatic: There are no miracles, only the kindness and good works of others.
In a typical meet-cute, Richmond is introduced to Emily Barstow, who is having faith issues of her own. As played by Samantha Barks, she is feisty and interesting, and they have a solid chemistry, but she has too little screen time.
Familiar British actress Lesley Manville brings comic life to the film as Bea Haddington, the befuddled wife of the candlemaker. But singer Susan Boyle, making her film debut as one of the townsfolk, looks uncomfortable throughout. She does sing, which is one of the film’s high points.
Despite some fine production values, lovely photography and smart casting of a range of British stage and screen actors, “The Christmas Candle” can’t quite move beyond the weary metaphors. It has the feel of a slick television movie. And in the future, the small screen is probably where it will land, finding a comfortable home for the holidays.