Tuesday, March 18, 2008


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.


TimeWarden said...

Nice to see something on television, over Easter, actually about the Easter story. The BBC should do the same at Christmas, maybe instead of, or as well as, having seafaring ships flying through space!

Regarding Jesus' skin colour, only Madonna seems to have been brave enough to portray him as black in the music video for her song "Like a Prayer".

And, speaking of the "Hood", have you heard Guy of Gisborne has been cast as the new member of "Spooks" to replace outgoing Rupert Penry-Jones?

Steve said...

By 'eck, Gisbourne to join the Spooks - now there's a thing. I must admit I haven't watched it over much since Keeley Hawes left.

Regarding the Christmas story, you know, you're right. It would be nice to see a sumptuous rendition of it on the TV's at Christmas. I'd certainly be a real sucker for it but then at that time of year I also go all dewy eyed over Greg Lake's video for I Believe In Father Christmas... a few desert and camel shots at Christmas and I'm well into the Christmas spirit!

Tristan said...

I've been enjoying The Passion too - it's interesting to see Jesus' story reinterpreted for the modern era. If you strip away the bollox that's accrued around his teachings (if you ignore the fact there's little historical evidence to suggest he actually existed) you see that he was a socialist before such an ideology existed. Shame most of the more inconvenient aspects of his message (i.e. rich men/camels/needles etc) got ignored.

Steve said...

Hi Tris, I know what you mean and am ashamed to say one of my first thoughts when the "camel through the eye of a needle" lesson arose in Monday's episode was that it's easy to give up everything when you don't have a lot to begin with. And then I wondered if that was actually true? Are homeless people on the street less or more precious about the few possessions that they possess? I suspect it's the latter which means I was ultimately making a poor excuse for my acquisitiveness which in itself in an excuse for not following a more spiritual lifestyle. Aargh! Guilt! Unworthiness! Sin! Sin!

But then I look at Tom - barely 5 and a half months old and realize that you have to be practical. Wondering off in the desert when you're young free and single is one thing; abandoning your family when they're dependent on you to bring home the bacon is something else entirely. Even spirituality can be a form of selfishness I guess. I'm sure Jesus would understand.

Anonymous said...

When I saw your heading and the photo of James Nesbitt I was getting a bit worried. I thought your tastes had changed a little!!

I didn't watch this.
And I have never eaten a club biscuit.

But I might try both next weekend.

Thanks for all your kind comments over the past few days - they were greatly appreciated!

Steve said...

Hi Gina, I preferred him in Murphy with that big droopy moustache...! Lol! ;-)

If you've never had a Jacob's club then you're missing out! Superior to Penguins (though not as good as Rockys) they're an essential part of anybody's packed lunch. Honest.

Kind comments sincerely meant. Thank you for yours also. :-)

-eve- said...

> 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?”

*Chuckles* This gave me a few laughs! LOL! :-)

-eve- said...

> Wondering off in the desert when you're young free and single is one thing; abandoning your family when they're dependent on you to bring home the bacon is something else entirely. Even spirituality can be a form of selfishness I guess. I'm sure Jesus would understand.

Yes indeed! As the saying goes, 'charity begins at home'. :-)

Steve said...

It does indeed Eve, though I suspect it's more of a case of getting your priorities right - which actually Jesus was very big on: the son of man is soveriegn over the Sabbath, etc. Though I'm not sure he meant it to be used for Sunday trading...

The Sagittarian said...

Haha, that comment about the irish accent - priceless! Haven't seen that programme here, no doubt they will wheel out some old crap from the archives. It won't bother me, I'm getting into the bubbly and chocolate eggs! T'be sure.

Steve said...

Hi Amanda, I have no doubt the TV stations here will wheel out The Robe or maybe even Ben Hur... so old they creak but I secretly enjoy them.

Bubbly and chocolate eggs? Now there's a perfect cocktail if ever I heard one!

Annie G said...

Hi Steve, I've enjoyed reading your post and the comments, as always.
The Passion really is a fabulous production and every time I see the crucifixion, in any interpretation, I'm reduced to tears because of the pain that Jesus suffered to give us new life. (Note to Tristan: there is no evidence either that Jesus DIDN'T exist).
With regard to James Nesbitt as Pontius Pilate... I completely forgot his Irish accent. His performance is powerful and believable..... brilliant.

Annie G said...

Ps. Happy Easter :-)

Trevor Gay said...

Tristran – Though I am not - and never will be – as well read as Theologians I am assured there is plenty of evidence that Jesus did exist. I am also convinced there is less evidence to the contrary.

More important perhaps is that all Christians have FAITH that Jesus existed.

Christians believe Jesus lived as a fact with as much passion as you believe it to be ‘bollox.’ Having said that I respect your dissenting view of course.

I hope one day you may open your mind to the possibility.

James Dewar the Scottish Physicist (1842 – 1923) said - “Minds are like parachutes – they only function when they are open”

The ‘seriousness’ of my comment on Steve’s light hearted and entertaining Blog is not perhaps appropriate so my apologies if anyone feels my comment is not suitable for this Blog.

As far as the drama itself is concerned it is fabulous, powerful in its message and very moving as far as I am concerned as an amateur TV critic.

Steve said...

Hi Annie, it is a fabulous production and nice to know the good people at HBO went on to create something so sumptuous after two terrific series of Rome. I found the crucifixion scene very harrowing though was actually disappointed that there wasn't a lightening strike as Jesus died... however, that aside, the realism made it very uncomfortable viewing. I also liked the fact they portrayed Jesus as experiencing and defeating his own fear and doubts. As of Jimmy Nesbitt - it is a terrific performance though he's being overshadowed by Jesus and Caiaphas for my money... but that accent does get in the way for me. Mind you, a Roman speaking in BBC English is just as incongruous I suppose!

Trevor, I don't believe any offense will be taken by anyone. Feel free to comment as you wish! Faith is such a personal thing, the problems come when we try and force our view onto other people. I'm glad to say that nobody appears to be doing that here. I have to say I'm inclined to believe that something did happen - someone did exist whose teachings had a huge impact on the world. Whether everything happened exactly as the Bible says it does isn't important. The message is the most important thing. I think this is part of what Jesus was trying to say: don't get caught up in the red tape and rules - remember to adapt to what life and God requires of you. I'm looking forward to the final part of The Passion tonight.

Happy Easter to you both!