Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Passion: Reviews and Comments begin to come in

It is Monday morning and the papers are full of reviews and comments on The Passion. I hope to blog some more about this at the week goes on. In the mean time, here are some comments on this morning's selection, beginning with a somewhat annoying contribution in the Daily Mail. Further to my previous post on the Telegraph article on the crucifixion, now updated with a comment from Paula Gooder (which, unlike the Telegraph, I did not edit), the Daily Mail now attempts to weigh in on the same topic:

Row over BBC drama which shows Jesus crucified in a foetal position

The article appears simply to be a rehash of the Telegraph piece. The idea that there is a "row" is, I think, difficult to sustain. Indeed, the article only quotes one person apparently hostile to the BBC on this topic, and his comments appear to have been drawn from the Telegraph article. I am quoted, but I have not talked to them -- the quotation also comes from the Sunday Telegraph. The article continues the pattern of joint Telegraph / Daily Mail reporting of The Passion (BBC exonerates Judas, etc.). Both papers have been looking for controversy for the last three weeks, and they are still struggling to find it.

I should not be too harsh on them, though. The Telegraph's own TV reviewer clearly loved it, and was unable to find grounds for complaint:

Last night on television: The Passion (BBC1), Gavin and Stacey (BBC3)
By James Walton
. . . In particular, The Passion strikes an impressive balance between being faithful to the gospel stories and being unafraid to flesh them out, when required, with recognisable human motives. It also supplies (helpfully, if not always subtly) the theological, historical and political background to what we’re seeing.

One objection from those Christian groups is apparently that Pontius Pilate is portrayed as a good guy. Well, again – and leaving aside the question of whether this would necessarily be an outrage anyway – I can’t see it myself. As played by James Nesbitt, Pilate isn’t a complete psychopath. Nonetheless, in his career politician’s determination to show the Jews who’s boss, he often might as well be . . . .

. . . . The Passion does perhaps suggest that, in its absence of doubt, Jesus’s is essentially a young man’s gospel (which, I suppose, is mildly controversial, but also interesting). Yet, for the same reason, the programme proves deeply stirring too – as his message of love for God and neighbour slices straight through all the realpolitik around him . . .
The Times also reviews The Passion (again, along with Gavin and Stacey):

The Passion; Gavin and Stacey
Weekend TV
Andrew Billen

It's a mixed review, but I liked this line:
The virtue of Nigel Stafford-Clark's Passion is that it looks historically real but not historic: no one knows, aside presumably from Jesus, that this will be the week that changes the West for ever.
The Herald quite liked it; Michael Barnes, SJ in Thinking Faith (British Jesuits journal) is pretty thrilled with it:
This is brilliant story-telling, carefully plotted and visually superb. One shot, in which Jesus is showered with blood-red poppy petals scattered from windows above, makes for a perfect counterpoint to the traditional waving of palms. Jerusalem, with its narrow alleyways and cramped corners, and the Temple stained by blood sacrifices and burnt offerings, looks just like the provincial backwater which the Romans profess to hate. Apart from the clich├ęd mood music as Jesus walks through a desolate landscape marked by ominous crosses and smoking fires, the production scarcely puts a foot wrong.
And The Scotsman too lines up to find a lot that it liked in the opening episode:

A very British Passion for Judea
By Andrea Mullaney
. . . . But as a drama, this certainly worked, with an unusual amount of tension for such a familiar story.
Over on reJesus, Matt Page's review is up, and it's encouraging reading for the programme makers. Matt, who runs the Bible Films Blog, knows more than anyone about Bible films and his opinion is worth hearing.

Other bloggers, so far, are a bit luke warm in their comments. Michael Bird offers reflections in Euangelion and, like Doug Chaplin on Metacatholic, he objects to "The endless references to the "kingdom of God is within you"", which, he says, "over emphasizes a minor Lucan theme". Well, I rather like Luke, but I would add that the line in fact comes only once in the episode, when Jesus is talking to Mina as she clings to his feet. I am not sure if I would agree with Michael about the "Borgesque" theology, though I think he rightly perceives that sacrifice is a major theme in Deasy's scripts, and it is a theme that will continue to be worked out in the forthcoming episodes. Doug is not keen on the "rewriting of Jesus' teaching", something I regard as one of the strengths of the writing -- it is fresh and interesting and, I find, pretty powerful. I particularly like Jesus' line to Mary Magdalene, "Before the end of the week, Mary Magdalene, I promise you that you will know God like never before". It may take a little getting used to, though, and I have had a couple of years to get used to a lot of this, and I do realize that my own appreciation of the drama proceeds from my familiarity with it, so I am interested to hear these first impressions. Nevertheless, I am pleased that people are finding so many positives in The Passion, not least because the best is definitely still to come. Episode 2 is on BBC1 tonight at 8.30pm.


Steven Carr said...

Is it true the BBC cut all the miracles out of the Gospel stories when making the film?

Alan in Belfast said...

Overall, enjoyed it ... was impressed ... thought-provoking ...

Geoff Hudson said...

Last night's episode gave the impression that Romans were in control of Jerusalem. Yet as far as I can see the word Romans occurs but once in the gospels, and that in what is almost certainly a comment inserted with hindsight to Jn.11.48 - "then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation." It is almost as though the Romans were of no immediate concern to the then rulers of Judea, the Sanhedrin, controlled by the high priests - an oligarchy. Prefect Pilate was stuck in his enclave of Caesarea (where his inscription was found) receiving the taxes collected by the ruling elite. So long as he received his money, Rome would not interfere in internal Jewish affairs. The trial and execution of the prophet had nothing to do with the Romans, but was an entirely traditional Jewish procedure.

Doug Chaplin said...

I did say more positive things about it than I did negative!

Mark Goodacre said...

Hi Doug. Perhaps "luke warm" was not the best phrase to describe bloggers' comments in general, though it fits Michael Bird's thoughts. I very much enjoyed your comments, especially the positive ones :)

Christopher Shell said...

Can't wait for the dvd (hope one is planned). I counted two 'the kingdom of God is within you', together with the implication that this was Jesus's central message. Of course, one can well argue that it is not the worst summary of his central message, which very probably did involve the kingdom and did speak about it in terms of the seed of the word being gladly received and bearing fruit. But two cautions: (1) the saying comes only in a late gospel, Luke; (2) it is a saying beloved of those who want Jesus to have been talking about the divine spark within every human being and/or about self-realisation (depth good, height bad and all that). Although I found Jesus lacking sufficient authority/conviction (let alone any that could convincingly produce a great following) and a bit unclear in his speech, most of the other characters were thoroughly intriguing, as were the period/authentic trivia. Altogether delightfully unpredictable and wonderfully real-life - didn't seem a bit Hollywoody.

Antonio Jerez said...

Christopher Shell has some interesting comments on the topic of the kingdom being "within you" To his two notes about about caution I might add a third : all talk about the kingdom being within is a mistranslation of the original greek and lucan theology. It should be the kingdom is among you or around you. Sad to see this misunderstanding of Jesus and the gospel writers message being repeated ad infinitum both my christian preachers, scholars and now yet more film

Antonio Jerez said...

Sorry, some words got lost on the way. Here is the correct version of my message:
Christopher Shell has some interesting comments on the topic of the kingdom being "within you" To his two notes about caution I might add a third : all talk about the kingdom being within is a mistranslation of the original greek and lucan theology. It should be the kingdom is among you or around you. Sad to see this misunderstanding of Jesus and the gospel writers message being repeated ad infinitum both by christian preachers, scholars and now yet one more film.