Over the years, TV channels have spoiled their audience for choice during the festive season with custom-made shows such as Doctor Who, Downton Abby, EastEnders and Strictly Come Dancing. But looking at the TV guide to see what will be distracting me from essays this year, I was surprised to find that the televisual entertainment would consist of, wait for it: Doctor Who, Downton Abby, EastEnders and Strictly Come Dancing. It feels like we’re in desperate need of a change, something a little different to keep us entertained and able to procrastinate that little bit longer. With this in mind, how refreshing it was to find that something different, in the form of the charming On Angel Wings.
Adapted from author Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book, the tale retells the nativity story, but not the one you had the starring role in as Sheep Number 3. As the opening titles spread across the night sky, we notice a bright light in the distance, but this isn’t the famous star the shepherds followed to the stable, it’s a light being held by a group of children, off to visit their Grandfather. The youngest, Rachel, is picked on by the others, but when the children meet their grandfather on the hill, it is her likeness to him that inspires him to tell them his story – ‘one you’ve never heard before’, says Michael Gambon, perfect for the wise, softly spoken storyteller.
The story is his own, when he was a young shepherd called Amos, picked on by his brothers similarly to Rachel, never taken seriously and not believed when he drives a pack of jackals away from a lost lamb. But when the Angel Gabriel (Dominic Cooper), overly cool and slightly irritating, appears through the sparks in the shepherds’ fire inviting them to visit ‘a saviour who will bring peace and goodwill to the whole world’, Amos can’t wait to visit the new-born king. In order to fully show his underdog status, though, his father and brothers leave him behind to look after the sheep, before Gabriel promises to fly him to Bethlehem to visit the baby.
Here is where Morpurgo’s sweet and innocent message really shines through, with Amos asking Gabriel as they fly through the sky: ‘this new king, why has he come now?’ Gabriel answers by showing him the planet Earth, which is full of people who are selfish. The new king has come to show them how to be. Amos finally then gets to meet Baby Jesus in the stable, along with Mary (voiced by Juliet Stevenson) and Joseph. Amos gives all that he has with him, his staff, to the child who will become ‘the shepherd of mankind’.
For those of us who have heard the story time after time it is enjoyable to see this new spin on the famous tale, and for those who are new to the story, the simple nature is forgiving as we remember the warm feeling of being a child at Christmas, while the cartoon animation gives a nostalgic flare to proceedings. The sentimentality is through the roof but this again is forgiven at this time of year, with a parting message that is just as sweet as the others, as Amos, now speaking again to Rachel and his other grandchildren reveals that this is the first time he has told his story as he thought no one would believe him. “Believe in yourself”, he says to Rachel, “even when no one else will”.