A hotel in London, 2:18am: I am back from the Passion Première and had a wonderful evening. Before I say anything else, let's just get one thing out of the way: I met Robert Powell! In fact I didn't just meet Robert Powell, but I had a reasonably lengthy and enjoyable conversation with him. I had seen him arrive early in the evening, and saw him having his photograph taken with Joseph Mawle, who plays Jesus in The Passion, and I resisted the temptation to run up to him and say Hi. Happily, later in the evening opportunity presented itself for me to say hello, as I slided steadily towards him alongside Matt Page of the Bible Films blog, who was as keen as I was to meet him.
But with that excitement out of the way, let me rewind a little. I arrived early at the Apollo West End, where the première was to take place, and Matt Page and I filled the time with a pint and some chat. On arrival, I was ushered into a side room where Frank Deasy, the writer of The Passion, was being interviewed. We had often talked on the phone and by email, but this was the first time we had met in person. I did two short interviews in the same room, the first with Christian Premier Radio and the second with Christian Today. I just had time to grab a glass of wine before the screening began, and a chance to meet Nigel Stafford-Clark, the producer, and Michael Offer, the director, also for the first time. And on my way down the stairs, I recognised Joseph Mawle (Jesus) and introduced myself to him and gushed about how good he was in the role. (I did a lot of gushing tonight). I sat with Michael Wakelin, the head of religion and ethics at the BBC, and a fellow advisor on the programme. Jane Tranter, head of drama at the BBC, introduced the screening and read a long list of thank-yous.
Watching the first episode in its final form on the big screen was a wonderful experience. I have seen it many times in earlier edits, but seeing the final version, and on the big screen, was very powerful. The most striking thing to me was the "Coming Soon . . ." trailer at the end, which gathered together some of the most remarkable moments from the forthcoming episodes. And I would be dishonest if I did not confess to some pleasure in seeing my name on the credits after it.
After the screening of the first episode, there was a Q&A session with, left to right, Joseph Mawle (Jesus), Frank Deasy (writer), Jane Tranter (head of drama, chairing), Nigel Stafford-Clark (producer), me, and Michael Offer (director). There were several interesting questions from the audience. Did the spectre of Mel Gibson's film loom large? (No, not really). Had Joseph Mawle had any reservations about playing Jesus (No, not really; yes, there was a huge responsibility, but also he is a "working actor", delighted to get the role). Another question agreed with the others that it was a stunning, compelling piece but added that she was unhappy with one of the lines spoken by Mary; a later questioner echoed the concerns, but I reassured both that I did not think there was any reason to be worried about the theology of the piece, either here or elsewhere.
At the reception afterwards, I met several old friends and lots of new ones, enjoyed a glass of wine (or two) and lots of canopes. The buzz was pretty positive. Almost everyone I talked to had found the first episode compelling drama and they were keen for more.
Oh, and did I mention that I met Robert Powell?