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Great Story And Music Combine In A Terrific Christmas Movie
on October 11, 2005
As a rule I dont tend to warm to remakes of classic films however the Penny Marshall directed Christmas story "The Preacher's Wife", is a definite exception and has become one of my favourite festive season viewing experiences. Based on the classic Samuel Goldwyn film "The Bishop's Wife", which starred legends Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven, this 1996 effort has a charm and slant on the essentially same story all its own. Denzel Washington in the role of an angel sent down to earth to sort out the life of a preacher who has lost sight of what really is important, is a most worthy successor to Cary Grant in the original film and Whitney Houston in the female lead displays a warm screen presense and great musical talent that couldn't be bettered in this type of story. Amazingly I only saw this film for the first time 3 years ago but it has become a firm favourite of mine ever since. Combining a traditional and much loved Christmas tale with some truly wonderful gospel singing gives this effort a really upbeat feel which however never sacrifices for one minute the more touching aspects of the story.
"The Preacher's Wife", focuses on the parish of St. Matthews run by Rev. Henry Biggs (Courtney B. Vance), a well meaning and dedicated preacher who has been trying to be all things to all people in his needy area. Along the way through court cases for wrongly convicted minors, leaking furnaces, and offers by local big wig Joe Hamilton (Gregory Hines), to "upgrade", to a new flashy parish of the future, Henry has lost sight of his wife Julia (Whitney Houston), and their small son Jeremiah (Justin Pierre Edmund). Just when things look the blackest and Henry feels he is acheiving nothing an unexpected answer to his prayers for help comes in the form of debonair stranger Dudley (Denzel Washington), who has a hard time convincing the embattled preacher that he has been sent down to earth by "the big guy", to help him with his problems. Dudley has his work cut out for him as Christmas approaches and Henry gets more and more ground down by his duties in the parish. Dudley begins to provide the warm understanding companionship that Julia craves much to the growing alwarm of her well meaning mother Beverly (Loretta Devine). The pair go skating, and even go out at night to the jazz club where Julia used to perform and where Henry proposed to her. Warned off by Beverly, Dudley begins to see that he is falling in love with Julia and that that was not why he was sent back to Earth. Some well timed intervention in Joe Hamilton's crass plans for Henry makes the preacher begin to see where his real value is and what is important to him, first and foremost his family. All things come together for the Christmas pageant and service where Henry reaffirms his faith in God and his family and his place in the world. Dudley realises his work is done on earth and in a poignant finale blesses the family with a beautifully decorated Christmas Tree after which they will not recall his presense in their lives at all. Dudley attends the Christmas service at St. Matthews but the adults have no memory of him, however Jeremiah still so young at heart does still know him and wishes Dudley a Happy Christmas before he returns to Heaven with his task successfuly completed.
A truly inspirational and touching story filled with some beautiful music and comic pieces is the best way to describe this beautiful little movie. I love all three lead performances here and it's a joy to see Denzel Washington, normally the star of some intensely dramatic films, in such a charming and light hearted role as Dudley. He displays a fine comic talent and teams especially well with the other two leads. If ever there was a proper successor to Cary Grant in this role then Denzel Washington is it. Whitney Houston does very well in the role of Julia and she displays a nicely touching persona especially in her scenes with her screen son. She of course comes alive in the musical numbers many of which she produced herself. I've become a big fan of gospel music after her terrific rendition of such numbers as,"Step by Step", and especially the show stopping "I believe in you and me". Courtney Vance playing the earlier David Niven role of Henry is also excellent and his performance contains alot of the dramatic meat of the story as the essentially kind hearted preacher who is torn too many ways and sees himself loosing his family. His work with Denzel Washington in particular is note worthy especially in the scenes when he can't seem to understand just "where", this mysterious helper has suddenly come from. Other standouts in the cast are Jenifer Lewis as Julia's mother in a very funny performance full of great lines and wry observations about what is happening in the Biggs household, and Gregory Hines as sharp business man Joe Hamilton who in turn is also affected by Dudley's presense in his previously rather shallow life. The look and feel of "The Preacher's Wife", makes it a wonderful newer Christmas viewing experience and much of the credit goes to the church scenes with the St. Matthew's choir taking centre stage. Their singing and expert handling of all the gospel music is perfect and really gets you into the feel of the season.
As a "modern", Christmas story I personally feel "The Preacher's Wife", is a most worthy successor to the well known and greatly loved earlier classics like "White Christmas", and "Miracle on 34th Street". Taking a very different slant on the story than the earlier 'The Bishop's Wife", it manages to be wholly original in its own way and makes delightful seasonal viewing. Try and see this touching film next Christmas and I'm sure it will become a treasured part of your holiday viewing like it is in my home.