Phil Boatwright: Some Movies to Watch This Christmas Season That Go Beyond Hallmark’s Snow & Mistletoe

Thanks to the Hallmark and Lifetime television networks, we are bombarded with fresh “Christmas” movies each December. Most of them have the same storyline: A pretty businesswoman is usually at odds with an ambitious business executive or a hunky construction worker with the 4-day stubble throughout the film — until they discover they’re in love. What separates these efforts from the rest of the yearly made-for-TV rom-drams is the intermittent presence of snow and mistletoe.

Occasionally, one of these productions will touch on the “gift” of family or a Christmas carol, but almost none have anything to do with the reason for the season — the birth of our Savior.

That said, it can be argued that cinematic storytelling is at its best when it gets viewers to think about spiritual matters rather than attempting to proselytize. So, this blessed season, let’s turn to three films that carry a spiritual message through parable. They remind us that the faith of a child, or a teenager, can be more powerful than whole armies, faith being the essential component.

“The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey” (2007)

A mysterious recluse (Tom Berenger) happens to be the best wood carver in the valley. Slowly the woodcutter finds his world transformed by a young boy and his mother (Joely Richardson), who asks him to carve a yuletide scene.

When the boy loses a treasured wooden nativity set that links him to his deceased father, his mother persuades Jonathan to create a replacement and allow her son to watch him work on it. Soon the boy makes greater demands of the woodcarver’s ability, and as Christmas approaches, the three come to terms with painful memories of loss and begin putting their unhappiness behind them.

Mr. Berenger gives dimension to his role and the technical and artistic merits blend together to give families an uplifting night at the movies. Because of the fine performances and positive messages, including a respect for God and Christ (prayers are spoken, church is attended and the main characters acknowledge the birth of Christ), The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey has become one of my favorite seasonal films. Unrated, I found nothing objectionable.

“I Am David” (2003)

This intriguing film adaptation of Anne Holm’s internationally acclaimed novel “North to Freedom” concerns a 12-year-old boy who escapes a communist labor camp possessing little more than a compass, an inherent distrust of people and a sealed letter.

Preteen newcomer Ben Tibber does a credible job as the withdrawn boy fleeing unimaginable circumstances, somehow believing that there is more to life than what he has known. This character and his journey are symbolic, reminding us of the need for faith and the treasure of liberty.

Most powerful scene: young David walking into a church, hearing a choir rehearsing music that exalts God and revealing a tender side of mankind. As he stands there, a policeman also enters the sanctuary. At first, David is fearful when the constable takes a place next to the youngster. Government officials have always been people he was to fear. Suddenly, calmness comes over the boy, as the policeman smiles. David is changing. His world is changing. So much is being said, without words. It’s really quite a remarkable film sequence.

Come to think of it, there’s an even more powerful scene to come. But I’ll leave that for you to discover.

I Am David is rated PG for thematic elements and some violence. While the subject matter may not be suited for very little children, the careful handling of the material helps suggest the triumphant power of the human spirit. What a delight to view such a film during this holy season, for it’s an affirming journey of discovery about finding that which feeds the soul — faith.