Rick Santorum’s ‘Christmas Candle’ Brings You The Miracle Of A TV Movie On The Big Screen
It would be inaccurate to call The Christmas Candle a terrible movie, or even an especially bad movie. You can’t really hate it, because that would just take too much effort. Rather, it’s an almost instantly forgettable nothing of preachy sappiness, a completely predictable, by-the-numbers story about Christmas miracles. It’s not enjoyably bad, like the stuff you’d find on MST3K, or offensively bad, like the guy in charge of making it, EchoLight Studios chief Rick Santorum; it’s just a great big pile of earnest Christmassy meh, which mostly serves to answer the question, Can Susan Boyle act? (She can’t, not even in a small role).
This was supposed to be the movie that proved that explicitly Christian-oriented movies could compete with Hollywood, with high production values, real actors, and compelling stories. They got two out of three, but that last one is a killer. As far back as 2011, well before he actually took over a studio, Rick Santorum complained that Christian-oriented movies were mostly amateurish: “great message, terrible acting, horrible editing,” Santorum said. “They are not entertaining, they’re preachy.” The Christmas Candle does indeed look like a real movie, for the most part. Filmed mostly on the Isle of Man, it looks exactly like Christmas Movie Late-Victorian England, complete with period furniture, quaint rustics, and an obviously generous budget for costumes. The cast is a competent ensemble of faces you’ve seen on TV but will struggle to name — you’ll definitely recognize that one woman who was in that thing, and they even got Sylvester McCoy, the seventh Doctor from the pre-reboot Doctor Who, to play the weak-willed but decent candlemaker. Nobody completely embarrasses themselves, is what we’re saying; even Susan Boyle is only 70% wooden.
The story is predictable holiday fluff: A skeptical young minister, his faith shaken by a private tragedy, comes to take over the pulpit of the village of Gladbury (Presumably Happytown was too obvious), where the story is passed on from generation to generation of the Christmas Candle, with an instant mythology that can be delivered via a quick voiceover before the opening credits: an angel visits the candle shop every 25 years, blesses a candle, and a deserving person is given the candle and the inspiring message of hope, “Light this, and pray.” And then they get their Festivus Miracle. Ah, but the new minister, David Richmond (Hans Matheson), doesn’t want anything to do with that old-fashioned foolishness, blahblahblah. Complications ensue, the simple townsfolk discover the joy of helping each other, and the greatest miracle of all is God’s love as channeled through decent people. Oh, and there’s a beautiful Young Modern Woman, Emily Barstow (Samantha Barks), who you know is destined to fall in love with Richmond because they meet cute, and she doesn’t go to church, so there’s a kind of challenge to overcome, as ploddingly as possible.
It’s all pretty tedious, the stuff of a Hallmark movie, and it doesn’t help that the Big Miracle turns out to be that the candle itself glows with all the brilliant, life-saving light that a cheesy visual effects suite can muster. There’s a lot of talk about Light and Jesus, of the vaguely inspirational sort appropriate to a Christmas movie, no hellfire and damnation stuff, thankfully. Just about the only thing in the movie that seems especially tailored to a Rick Santorum sensibility comes at the very end of the film, after Reverend Richmond and Miss Barstow find their faith and each other: there’s a dissolve, and a title telling us “One Year Later, and then it seems like almost everybody in the little church is holding a baby. So yes, miracles and fecundity, Merry Christmas, the end. The closing credits roll over a scene of the whole babby-juggling village singing “Miracle Hymn,” a treacly carol written by Boyle for the film, but since the movie seems to be kind of bombing at the box office, there’s probably little danger the carol will leak beyond the confines of Christian FM radio.
About the best to be said for The Christmas Candle is that it looks very pretty; if you really need a dose of Rustic England, though, you’d do better to go find some reruns of the old BBC All Creatures Great and Small, which has the added attraction of large-animal veterinary procedures.
On a scale of Applejack to Princess Luna, The Christmas Candle is one of those nameless background ponies that the fandom hasn’t even come up with a name for.