Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Gospel of Us

I was just listening to The Film Programme on Radio 4 and it begins with a discussion of The Gospel of Us, a new film that comes out this weekend in the UK.  I am ashamed to say that until hearing this feature, it had completely passed me by.

The film is a kind of cinematic version of a modern Passion play set in Port Talbot in Wales and it stars Michael Sheen as "the teacher".  As far as I am concerned, anything with Michael Sheen in it is worth watching, and to see him in a Passion play set in Wales sounds just wonderful to me.  In fact, I once spent a happy weekend in Port Talbot as a kid; my dad is a book collector and there was a book fair there.  I can't wait to see the film.  Here's the official trailer:

The Guardian is a bit muted in its enthusiasm:
Passion plays are like Titanic for Christians: it's a tale they never tire of hearing, despite knowing how it ends. Sheen's secularised approach (his Christ figure is referred to as the Teacher) was spread over several days at venues in and around Port Talbot, an impressive theatrical undertaking that deserved to be recorded for posterity. Dave McKean's film is a stylised documentation of the event, a bold attempt to turn it into something more cinematic. He keeps things visually interesting and exciting, overlaying images and using the occasional separately filmed segment. For the most part it works well, although having all the dialogue virtually shouted (a necessity in outdoor theatre) doesn't help.
More elsewhere in the Guardian here.  The Independent really hates it -- "a calamitous misjudgement", in part because:
The director Dave McKean admits he's an atheist, which is fine, but denuding the Easter story of any religious dimension is surely nuts. He says he's exploring "belief systems" but fails to show what anyone here believes in.
I'd have thought the religious beliefs (or lack of them) ought not to be decisive in the film's impact.  After all, one of the most critically respected Jesus films, The Gospel According to St Matthew, was directed by the atheist Pier Paolo Pasolini.  The Independent article goes on:
Sheen calls himself Teacher, and all he does is pass around sandwiches (the feeding of the 5,000, I think) and ask people to tell him their "stories" – as if in this age of blogging people need encouragement. The Teacher has provoked evil corporate profiteers who want to exploit the town's resources. How he could threaten them never becomes clear. Sheen is a Messiah figure without the mystery, majesty or dark wit that characterised Jesus. Instead of giving great speeches to inspire followers or worry enemies, he just looks vaguely beatific, like a local boy made good. The conceit of it is at once narcissistic and completely banal.
IMDb's entry is here.  BBC News has a feature and an interview.  And there are three clips here.  The chance of catching it in one of the cinemas here is pretty remote so my guess is that I will have to wait for the DVD.


simon pudsey said...

I was lucky enough to catch this on Sunday. I've done a quick and dirty review on it but in truth there was so much more that we discussed after watching it:

I will confess that it is one of the few films which has actually caused me to weep. In actual fact this happened twice during the film.

Im horribly suspicious of a slightly atheist agenda at the BBC, as the Kermode/Mayo film review on Friday of the same week was unrepresentative and unhelpful (at best). Ive emailed them to address this as I believe that the reviewers had not actually watched the film.

The theatrical release is likely to be limited (10 screens in UK) and I was lucky to catch one of those a mere 15mins away.

I think this film does make a good case for crossover to the secular viewing public, but the sheer endowment of artistic creativity threatens to overwhelm it.

Its very good, but DVD will prob be the only way youll get to it.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for the report, Paul. I am looking forward to seeing it.