The Christmas Candle, Rick Santorum’s movie about a Christmas candle, is very nice. It’s nice in every sense of the word. There’s not a lot else to say about it. I was really, really tempted to just e-mail my editors a document that said this: “:-| :-| :-| :-| :-| :-| :-| :-|” and try to convince them that publishing it would be subversive and hip. Reluctantly, I decided not to do that. But here’s why it’s so much of a pain to write about this movie: It’s trying very hard to be something, and you feel like a jerk pointing out all the ways it falls short. Even being that harsh makes me feel like a bad person, since this movie is just so cuddly and precious.
So let me approach this another way: If you’re a conservative Christian parent of young children, and you want to find a movie that has no bad words and no violence and no nudity and no drug use and no cigarette-smoking and no alcohol and nothing else remotely objectionable, but with a lot of scenes that are sermons, then The Christmas Candle will leave you tickled pink. It really will. It is rapaciously wholesome.
I think, at this point, you’ll probably be best served if I just describe this movie and let you draw your own conclusion(s) regarding whether to spend an hour and 40 minutes of your fleeting time on this earth watching it. N.B.: There will be spoilers! But it’s not actually that big a deal because the story is pretty predictable.
The movie is set sometime in the 19th century and starts in London (I believe), where a former pastor is working for the Salvation Army, nobly doling out bowls of soup to a sad line of Dickensian poor folk. He then sees a young pregnant woman being kicked out of a boarding house by a hateful old woman, and he takes her to Salvation Army lodgings. He is kind of conflicted about his faith, but nonetheless he is recruited to move to the small, picturesque village of Gladbury and get back in the sermon-saddle.
The next person he saves is a woman named Emily Barstow (played by Samantha Barks, who was in Les Misérables and is strikingly beautiful and easily the best part of this movie), whose carriage he pushes out of a river where it’s trapped. This is when he is on the way to Gladbury. Emily is the prototypical feisty, spirited Victorian love-interest lass, who has lines like “I’m a believer — in common sense!” and edgily doesn’t go to church (but don’t worry! in the end she starts going again! spoiler!). It’s worth noting that he doesn’t save all the women he meets; one female parishioner pines for him to marry her and save her from spinsterdom, but she has ugly bangs and big teeth, so that dynamic is largely played for laughs.
When the pastor gets to Gladbury, he learns about the miraculous “Christmas Candle,” which shows up every 25 years when an angel visits the town candlemaker and imbues one of his candles with heavenly powers, which make it look like a glow stick. The gentle elderly couple who run the candle shop chooses a person in the village who needs a miracle and gives him or her the candle with the admonition, “Light this and pray.” Then the person the Christmas Candle is conferred upon gets a miracle. The pastor doesn’t believe in the tale, but that’s pretty silly of him, as the viewers have had to suspend all sorts of disbelief before this when they learn that it’s a real angel making the miracle candle, and so faithlessness is to be frowned upon.
Anyway, the controlling conflict is between the simple town folk, who want the pastor to incorporate references to the Christmas Candle into his sermons, and the pastor, who doesn’t believe that hogwash and chooses to preach about other things instead.
There’s another crisis, though, when — after it’s touched by the angel — the candlemakers lose the Christmas Candle and decide to just give out random candles surreptitiously to everyone in the town and tell each villager that he or she is getting the miracle one. Scandal! Whatever could happen when a whole town of people needing miracles is told to pray and hope? Do you think there would be a bunch of heartwarming miracles? Could we learn a valuable if heavy-handed lesson about hope and faith? You’ll have to watch The Christmas Candle to find out.
That’s pretty much the gist of it. If you think that’s the kind of thing you would enjoy, you should watch it. I’m not going to tell you what to do. :-|.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.