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This review is from: The Passion [DVD]  (DVD)
This series is not flawless by any means, but it earns top marks from me for being a compelling, grown-up and moving piece of drama of the kind we get only (alas) sporadically from the BBC these days. As a revisit to 'the greatest story ever told' it succeeds in its stated intention to bring the drama of Jesus's last days powerfully to life. I'm not a believer, but this series found the right mixture between originality and orthodoxy.
One particularly impressive new idea is the way that Judas is presented not just sympathetically (that's scarcely new anyway - Scorcese's Last Temptation of Christ being a notable example) but as a young, naive individual who is torn between two opposing father figures: Jesus, and Caiaphas the high priest. Caiaphas himself - played by the totally convincing Ben Daniels - is not exactly sympathetic, but we can at least understand his reasons for wanting Jesus dead. He is far from the monstrous caricature of Mel Gibson's film, and his complex characterisation is one of the reasons that this series has so much more depth.
Ultimately, the actual Passion itself is more moving too - despite being considerably less gory. If anything, the flogging is underplayed in this version, and the crown of thorns is positively weedy. But the crucifixion sequence is by far the most harrowing I've seen, and for an interesting reason. We really care about Jesus by this time, so we don't have to see every detail of his pain in vivid close-up in order to feel it, and be rightly moved. Penelope Wilton's turn as Mary is particularly powerful, and the script frequently reinvents the famous verses so as to emphasise their actual meaning. I'm sure that would irk some true believers, but as drama it is an excellent idea.
As for Jesus himself, Joseph Mawle does a superb job. His Jesus is clearly a man: one torn by doubts and fears, one who clearly would have preferred a nice quiet life with Mary Magdalene (definite hints of some feelings between them here - tastefully and touchingly done) but above all one whose absolute dedication to his cause leads him inexorably to his terrible death. Coming over very clearly in Mawle's performance is the sense of Jesus's love and compassion for his friends and his persecutors; even for non-believers perhaps the most admirable of his many qualities. Yet if you do believe that Jesus is God's son, the series accommodates that too.
James Nesbitt's (Pilate) accent does jar at first, but it's amazing how quickly one adjusts to it. His performance in the third episode in particular is very powerful.
The series looks like a film: high production values, excellent photography, convincing costumes and locations. It's also beautifully lit, often resembling a Caravaggio painting. I agree with Ian Armer about the music: the orchestral sequences work very well, but the ethnic parts seem like a blatant steal from 'Gladiator' and Peter Gabriel's music for 'The Last Temptation of Christ'.
All in all, this is an adaptation which should impress believers and non-believers alike. After all, the story has, in terms of drama, everything: guilt, betrayal, murder, love, manipulation, transgression, redemption, despair, hope, courage. The BBC could perhaps hardly go wrong with such rich material but it is to their credit that they have made it into one of their best dramas of recent years.
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Initial post: 21 Jun 2009 15:35:37 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 Jun 2009 15:36:45 BDT
Pardon the pun, but you nail it when you say that the Passion scenes here move us because we care about Jesus by the time we see him suffer; we are already invested in what he is doing and saying, so we can be spared the obsessively grotesque, semi-porn details of Gibson's bloodbath and still find the whole thing utterly wrenching. I have never seen any film portrayal of Jesus that so solidly illustrates his healthy, natural, human appeal quite like this one. I know many have found the same quality in Scorcese's "Last Temptation...", but I found his Jesus to be somewhat of a crackpot, with hints of a basic instability just beneath the surface (plus I thought it to be a lousy piece of filmmaking). I am so grateful that I have been able to see the BBC piece here in the U.S. Thanks for your insightful review.
Posted on 25 Jan 2010 14:53:58 GMT
In reply to an earlier post on 21 Nov 2010 22:13:49 GMT
Mr. James Smith says:
Erm - your point is what exactly?
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