The movie tells the story of the events surrounding the conception and birth of Jesus as portrayed in the Bible. It opens with Herod (Ciaran Hinds), King of Judea under Roman rule. He is afraid that he will lose his kingdom because of an ancient prophecy of the coming of a Messiah. He orders the killing of all male children under two in Bethlehem.
Flashing back to the previous year, we find Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) living with her parents Anna (Hiam Abass) and Joaquim (Shaun Toub) in the poor town of Nazareth. It is a time of oppression and harsh taxation enforced by Herod. Mary is betrothed to Joseph (Oscar Isaac). An angel tells her that she has been chosen by God to bear a son who will be a saviour for his people. Struggling to come to terms with this news, Mary, now pregnant, visits her cousin Elizabeth (Shohreh Aghdashloo) who is also expecting a child. This child will grow up to be John the Baptist.
When Mary returns to Nazareth, she cannot hide her pregnancy. She has a difficult confrontation with her parents and Joseph. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream and confirms Mary’s story. Joseph then vows to stand by Mary, no matter what others might say.
Meanwhile, Herod is determined to find and kill the Messiah of the prophecy. Herod decrees a census that Mary and Joseph must fulfill by making a difficult journey to Bethlehem. During this journey, we see Joseph’s selfless care and concern for Mary and a growing love and respect between the couple.
Jesus is born in a roughly made stable in Bethlehem, and local shepherds come to pay homage. Three Persian Magi also come, guided by the prophecy of the Messiah and following the path of a large star that appears when the planets converge. They find the new baby lying in a manger and bestow him with gifts. They defy Herod by returning to Persia without informing him about the child Messiah. Warned in a dream about Herod’s threat, Joseph and Mary take Jesus and flee across the desert towards the safety of Egypt.
The Christmas story; oppressive and violent regimes; seizing and killing children
- In several scenes, helmeted soldiers armed with swords terrify citizens by riding through villages and towns.
- Soldiers force their way into houses, killing babies.
- In one scene, soldiers seize a screaming child from parents who cannot pay their taxes.
Content that may disturb children
- Dead bodies hang from trees and crucified bodies hang from crosses.
- After Herod orders his soldiers to find all boys under two and kill them, a scene shows parents crying over a dead child.
- Two birth scenes might disturb children in this age group, particularly a scene showing Elizabeth giving birth. She is holding on to stirrups above her head and in considerable distress.
- One scene implies an act of circumcision.
- There are scenes of animals being prepared for sacrifice. Their carcasses are hung and butchered.
- A distressed donkey struggles to stay upright on the journey to Bethlehem.
- Mary is thrown into the water when a water snake scares the donkey.
- The Magi are depicted in dark and rather sinister scenes, with close-ups of faces.
- Soldiers are depicted in dark scenes and accompanied by intense music.
Children in this age group could also be disturbed by many of the scenes described above.
Some children in this age group could be disturbed by scenes of death and harm inflicted on children.
Mary’s pregnancy by immaculate conception might raise questions for older children.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Nudity and sexual activity
Ideas to discuss with your children
The Nativity Story is an epic telling of the Christmas story with strong visual and emotional impact. The main messages from this movie are the Christian message of the Saviour, the Son of God, born in humble surroundings, and the triumph of good over evil.
You might like to discuss with your children the notion of family loyalty and selflessness. Other issues you could talk about are how people living in poverty struggle to survive under oppressive regimes, as well as the consequences of making judgements about people without knowing the full story.