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Stars: Martin Freeman, Ashley Jensen, Marc Wootton, Pam Ferris, John Sessions, Ricky Tomlinson, Alan Carr, Jason Watkins

Director: Debbie Isitt

On this evidence, Britain's Debbie Isitt is better at writing and staging songs than directing films. If you can bear the first 80 minutes of this almost unwatchable school story, then the last 25 are pretty good fun, as St Bernadette's finally puts on its exhilarating show in the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral. Choreographer Jenny Arnold also deserves plaudits for the vibrancy and infectious joy of this extended sequence.

The rest, alas, is pretty much unbearable, with some eye-wateringly bad performances. Freeman, channelling Norman Wisdom via Tom Courtenay, is Paul Maddens, a dull primary school teacher whose stage ambitions have long since disappeared, along with his girlfriend (Jensen), who deserted him for life in Hollywood.

Five years ago, Freeman staged the school's annual nativity play, trashed both by the local drama critic (Carr playing Carr) and upmarket school rivals Oakmoor, coached by Paul's old drama colleage Gordon (a winsome Watkins). Saddled with a galumphing fool (Wootton) for a classroom assistant and strongarmed by the retiring head (Ferris) into one last go at the nativity play, Paul, harassed by Gordon, resorts to desperate lies about Jensen and her Hollywood cronies coming to see (and tape) the show.

Paul wishes he could get out of the hole he's dug and you too will wish you were somewhere else, as the excruciating capers - mostly involving Wootton - stagger on and on. Still, the final show has some decent songs, good harmonies and talented kids - just a shame about Gordon's entirely unbelievable intervention to try to stop it going ahead.

David Quinlan

USA 2009. UK Distributor: E1! Films. Colour by deluxe.
106 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: U.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 23 Nov 2009