The Nativity Story (PG) <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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Catherine Hardwicke, who made teens-on-the-rampage picture Thirteen, initially seems an outlandish choice to direct this latest version of the Greatest Story Ever Told. But then, given Mary was herself a teenager facing an unscheduled pregnancy and social disapproval, perhaps it's not such a stretch after all. What is surprising is the staid treatment and respectful tone that Hardwicke and screenwriter Mike Rich have adopted.

On the one hand, the parched terrain of 1st-century Palestine and the hardscrabble lives of Joseph and Mary, forced to journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register in the census, have a storybook solidity uninflected by modern interpretation. On the other, the appearance of the Angel Gabriel and the beams of seraphic light from the star of Bethlehem are straight from the stock cupboard of Hollywood biblical epic.

The Three Magi bring a (very small) offering of humour to balance the saturnine menace of Ciaran Hinds as Herod. Oscar Isaac and Keisha Castle-Hughes make a good-looking Joseph and Mary, though like the rest of the cast their performances are serenely contained; Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth didn't play it straighter. Reverential rather than inspirational, this nativity story will cause no murmurs of dissent among the faithful.