I’m greatly impressed with the BBC’s new rendition of The Passion. It looks good – sumptuous, I guess, would be the right word – and the dialogue and acting is really superb. They’ve got the feel of it just right. No surprise to learn then that the production team involved are the same highly skilled souls who brought Rome to our TV screens last year.
The Passion is both a difficult and an easy story for a director to interpret. Easy because the story is so well known and emotive of itself that it already connects with a huge audience (even the irreligious among us must surely appreciate the beauty of the story’s message) and difficult exactly because of the same. The story is so well known it’s almost been done to death. It’s too familiar.
And yet to quote an old saying, the BBC and HBO have managed to inject new wine into an old wine skin and, as a consequence, have come up with a deeply satisfying beverage.
A top class cast, beautiful locations, fantastic costumes (the costume department of the BBC’s Robin Hood please take note) and a skilled writer have all produced what is one of the best adaptations of the Easter story that I’ve seen for a long time.
All the old traditional motifs are there. I’m happily ticking off each event as it occurs – the Easter story is so ingrained since my school days it’s like re-visiting an old friend – but the writers have bulked out these Biblical checkpoints with elements of easily understandable human frailty and manoeuvrings. There is an inevitability about it all – but it is the inevitability of real human weakness rather than the work of two-dimensional cartoon automatons lifted straight out of the sparse text of the Bible.
There’s talk of controversy afoot too – apparently the director has filmed Jesus being crucified in the foetal position stating that there is strong evidence that this is how the Roman’s did it. Personally I think such details are irrelevant but it’ll be interesting to see how it is handled.
It’s a shame that the director didn’t take a few more risks elsewhere though. As good as Joseph Mawle is in the role of Jesus he does nevertheless conform to that deeply trad and probably deeply inaccurate view of Christ as being white with western features and blue eyes. Even I can see that such a notion is (a) unlikely (b) possibly imperialistic and (c) offensive. But then maybe the same argument should be applied here as to the arrangement of the crucifixion? Nobody really knows what Christ looked like so does it matter? Doesn’t the significance of the message outweigh the minutiae of its details?
My only gripe is a small one. James Nesbitt. He’s a brilliant actor and I really like him... but I just can’t cope with his Irish accent coming out of the mouth of Pontius Pilate. It really jars. I’m just waiting for him to splutter, “Bejasus are you Jesus? Would yer be after coming down to the pub fer a pint?”
Not so much Pontius Pilate as Padraig Pilate... and as we all know, Guinness does not travel well.