The weekend's TV
A bunch of blokes with long hair and beards head towards a city. ELO on tour? Nope, too many of them, and the lead guy's on an ass. There's a lot of palm fronds about the place ... ah, I think I know what this is: Palm Sunday. And it's going out on Palm Sunday! So The Passion (BBC1, Sunday), a drama that unfolds in four episodes spread over Easter Week, is TV in real time, a bit like 24, but more retro, and the guy saving the world has more hair. You wouldn't catch Jack Bauer on an ass either . . . .
. . . . . I don't think anyone's going to be getting too upset about it. JC isn't a woman, gay, or a Muslim (though it was all filmed in Morocco - I wonder what the locals made of that). It's actually pretty straight. Gospel, you might say. It is also fabulous, with some great performances: Ben Daniels is excellent as a complex Caiaphas, James Nesbitt plays Pontius Pilate with obvious enjoyment, Joseph Mawle is a believable Jesus (which is, I suppose, what you want from someone who says he's the son of God; it can't be an easy role). The ass is splendid too (it's pathetic, I know, but I just enjoy typing that word). But there's also a vitality and realness about the whole thing that you rarely find with this story. A passion, you could even say, in another sense of the word.
We're getting down and dirty in the narrow streets of Jerusalem, overflowing with life and the blood of sacrificed lambs. It's loud, looks alive, you can almost smell it all. This feels like a place and a time that actually happened. It's not at all preachy, though. There's no "he's good and he's bad" stuff. The characters, too, are treated as real people, not merely as vehicles for messages. In fact you could watch The Passion and totally forget that this story was central to a major world religion. And that's a good thing, I think