Local talent outshines big stars in Christmas movie
IF YOU'RE looking for some festive cheer, a sense of community spirit and a reminder of the real meaning of Christmas, look no further than A Christmas Star.
The film tells the story of the fictional coastal village of Pottersglen whose ailing factory is under threat of closure until the arrival of former resident McKerrod, who returns from America and promises to save the day.
However, when teenager Noelle O'Hanlon overhears the conniving developer's true plans to demolish the factory, she attempts to thwart his plans, with the help of a group of friends.
The village's future hinges on a final showdown at a televised event in in Stormont.
While Noelle grows up believing she has the gift to perform miracles, the real miracle of The Christmas Star is that movie was shot in just a few weeks last November with a cast of nine-to-13-year-olds with limited or no acting experience and a trainee crew of 40 18-to-25-year-olds, mentored by industry professionals.
The result, although short at 77 minutes long, is impressive.
Joining the young cast is a host of local actors led by The Fall's Bronagh Waugh, who once again plays a caring and concerning mother struggling with financial difficulties – a fine performance in which Waugh showcases a first class Italian accent.
The film, reminiscent of movies like Love Actually or 2009's Nativity! with its festive message of love and forgiveness, also features local 'names' in the form of comedians Kevin McAleer and Alan McKee, as well as broadcaster Ivan Martin and Bangor thespian Richard Clements, the latter putting in a gritty turn as dad Joe O'Hanlon.
Narration at the start and end of the film is by no less a name than home-grown Hollywood A-lister Liam Neeson, while Downton Abbey actor Robert James-Collier is commanding in his role as the Scrooge-type villain of the piece.
There are also fleeting appearances from Suranne Jones, Pierce Brosnan, Kylie Minogue, Dermot O'Leary and Julian Fellows.
However, the film doesn't really need such big hitters – the real stars of the show come from opposite ends of the age spectrum and from closer to home.
Twelve-year-old Newtownards actress Erin Galway-Kendrick carries the entire movie while Belfast's Roma Tomelty, in her 50th year in acting, plays hill farmer Angela, who helps deliver infant Noelle in her barn on Christmas Day and provides the teenager with worldly advice later on.
The only cringeworthy accents on show were a brief mumble from a Stormont security guard and, dare I say it, a rather wooden Pierce Brosnan who plays American businessman Mr Shepherd.
The film is sprinkled with gentle humour, such as Spud-Bob saying with sincerity: "I better go home – my mum is making sausage rolls and spaghetti hoops."
As the film closes with Zena Donnelly, a finalist in the Irish Junior Eurovision leading the 12,000 strong crowd outside Belfast City Hall in singing We Can Shine, you can't help thinking that A Christmas Star is another boost for the north's film industry.
As a parent, it also leaves this reviewer thinking that sometimes you really should listen more carefully to what your children are trying to tell you.
:: A Christmas Star is on general release from November 13.