When director John Ford asked a young Henry Fonda to play Abraham Lincoln in the film Young Mr. Lincoln, Fonda protested that he could not possibly take on the role of such a major figure. Ford responded: “You are not playing the Great Emancipator. You are playing a young jackleg lawyer from Springfield.”
Director Catherine Hardwicke may have thought of Ford when she gave Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac their roles as teenage Mary and Joseph in the restrained and reverent The Nativity Story. This retelling of the classic Christmas story stands out as the best film of the year.
The Nativity Story covers the familiar: Mary’s unexpected pregnancy, Joseph’s frustrated response, the couple’s journey to Bethlehem, Herod’s anger, the Magi, sleeping shepherds and finally the birth in a cave. But in Hardwicke’s hands the familiar becomes fresh again.