Sunday, December 01, 2013

Hans Matheson in The Christmas Candle

12/22/13 Update: Excerpts from Helen Earnshaw's December 10, 2013 interview with Hans Matheson have been incorporated into this post and credited to Earnshaw.

Hans Matheson is an actor whose body of work and approach to acting I've long admired. Or, as someone who knows me well has more succinctly put it, "He's your movie boyfriend, Michael!"

Okay, okay. . . . I admit I find the guy (incredibly) good-looking. But seriously, Hans Matheson is also a dedicated and gifted actor who is building (albeit a little too slowly for my liking) an impressive body of work in both film and TV. His latest venture sees him in the lead role in The Christmas Candle.

In this film Hans plays the Rev. David Richmond, a progressive minister who is undergoing something of a crisis of faith due to the recent death of both his wife and daughter. The setting is the fictional English village of Gladbury in 1890. Legend has it that every twenty-five years an angel visits the local candlemaker and bestows a miracle upon whomever lights the Christmas Candle. However, shortly after the arrival of the new pastor (Hans' character), the Christmas Candle goes missing. For anything more of the plot you're just going to have to either see the film or read Max Lucado's novel upon which it is based.

The Christmas Candle is an Impact and Big Book Media production presented by Britain's Pinewood Pictures. In the U.S. it's being distributed by Rick Santorum's film production company EchoLight Studios. Yes, that Rick Santorum.

Yet, thankfully, Hans appears not to share what I consider Santorum's rabid social conservative Christian views. Indeed, according to Hans in an interview with Helen Earnshaw, the message of The Christmas Candle is "not just a Christian thing." Following is more of what he says about the film and the character he plays in it.

I take on the role of David Richmond, the reverend, and he has formed this anger towards God, because he lost his wife and his child tragically. Before that, he had a firm belief and a faith in God and miracles. But [this tragedy] made him a little bit cynical and doubting of what he once believed.

He forms this anger towards God and, in some ways, he believes through good works and proving to others and getting them to follow his way of thinking, he will somehow get closer to God; it is almost like a competition. If anyone stands in opposition to that, they almost become a target for his anger. What this anger does is it imprisons him, I think.

It keeps him from seeing the miracle of the universe and he is left with only his limited perception. . . . What is wonderful is that there is redemption in the end, in which he sees that all the times he thought good works would lead somewhere, providence was at work the whole time. The miracle of life is the unknown.

That is not just a Christian thing because if you watch Brian Cox and his science programmes, it is the wonder of the universe and just sitting back and thinking ‘goodness me, I thought I was in control.’ There is just a miracle of being alive in this world.

. . . For me, [The Christmas Candle] is a romantic comedy and it is not necessarily a message from the Christian faith; I just don’t see it like that - maybe some people do. I think that there is a message in everything and in all paths towards, apparently, God: whether it is physics or whatever. It is just whether or not it lights you up or not and if there’s a resonance in you about certain things.

Although I'm definitely happy to see Hans in the leading role in a film, it's unfortunate that the film in question is one that has not been getting very good reviews. Following is The Guardian's overview of the film's reception.

The Christmas Candle, set in the fictional English village of Gladbury and billed as "a timeless holiday film for the entire family," attracted widespread critical scorn as well as dismal box-office results, having grossed just over $1.6m (£988,000) after two weeks on release.

The bad reviews were perhaps predictable, with the New York Daily News saying: "This odd Dickens-meets-Sunday-school movie is as artless as the setup is muddled", while the New York Post judged: "This throwback, made-for-TV-style film takes the easy way out in a cheesy climax, but its resolute quaintness may appeal to the kind of viewers who regard electricity as disturbingly newfangled." The Arizona Republic called it "resolutely stiff and hollow."

Former presidential candidate Santorum, who took to the media shortly before the film's release to lambast Hollywood as "the devil's playground" will presumably find it easy to shrug off critical brickbats; less easy to swallow will be the ignominious box office results. Its opening weekend, on a small "platform" release on just five screens, took a respectable $68,000; but in its second week, when it expanded to over 390, it took less than $1m. The crucial screen average was an extremely moderate $2,500, putting it below the likes of The Best Man Holiday, Narco Cultura, and bodybuilding doco Generation Iron - and far beneath Catching Fire and Philomena.

Oh, dear!

Well, as my friend Rick wryly remarked to me the other day, At least Hans still would have been paid.

Also, it should be noted that the criticisms have been leveled at the film's storytelling (described as hammy by one reviewer), and not at its cast. Roger Moore, for instance, observes that "the performances — save for Susan Boyle, a better singer than actress — are uniformly fine."

In his perceptive and insightful review for Christianity Today, Kenneth R. Morefield notes that "the cast is quite good, with Matheson and [Samantha] Barks both giving restrained performances that suit the mood of the film and keep it from going over the top."

Mary Houlihan, writing for the Chicago-Sun Times, acknowledges the "smart casting of a range of British stage and screen actors," and says the film's main character is "nicely played by Scottish actor Hans Matheson."

Reviewer Michael Smith goes a step further, noting that Hans "is often quite affecting as the Rev. David Richmond."

Mmmm . . . now why doesn't that surprise me?

Above: Hans with his Christmas Candle co-star Samantha Barks.

In early 2008 I did a post about Hans as Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the TV series The Tudors. At the end of that post I shared something of a retrospective of Hans' career. Since that time Hans has completed only a few projects. These are highlighted below.

Above: Hans as the dastardly Alec D'Urberville in the 2008 BBC television adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urberville. For more about this production, see the previous Wild Reed post, A Devilish Turn.

Left: Hans as Lord Coward in the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes.

Above: Hans as Ixas, meeting Medusa in the 2010 film Clash of the Titans. And, no, Ixas doesn't appear in the sequel!

Next year Hans will feature in another sword and scandal epic when he stars as Aeskylos in 300: Rise of An Empire (right), a film which in pretty much every way imaginable is as far removed from The Christmas Candle as you can get!

And let's just be open to that as serving to indicate Hans Matheson's versatility as an actor!

About his involvement in 300: Rise of An Empire (above), Hans told Helen Earnshaw of

It was just a great experience for me because I had to get fit – really fit – in about ten weeks; it was hard-core training. It was fantastic and I had a great time making it. Visually it is going to be a real spectacle. I was really lucky to get the part and deliver it to the best of my ability. I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t really tell you, but I think it is going to be pretty good.

Related off-site Links:
Christmas Candle Beams with Holiday Spirit – Martin Tsai (Los Angeles Times, November 21, 2013).
Review of The Christmas Candle – Frank Scheck (The Hollywood Reporter, November 21, 2013).
Flipping the Holiday Switch – Nicolas Rapold (New York Times, November 21, 2013).
The Christmas Candle Review – Peter Sobczynski (, November 23, 2013).
The Christmas Candle Has Trouble Keeping Faith Burning Consistently – Chris Foran (The Journal Sentinel, November 21, 2013).
Hammy Storytelling Douses Christmas Candle – Sean P. Means (Salt Lake Tribune, November 21, 2013).
Hans Matheson Online

For more of Hans Matheson at The Wild Reed, see:
To the Lighthouse . . .
Hans Matheson in The Tudors
A Devilish Turn
Stealing Away

1 comment:

Terry Nelson said...

I saw the trailer and it does indeed look schmaltzie, made for TV. I spied what looked like a Fontanini crèche in a store window.

Too bad everything is so Disney-esque.