It's refreshing then to find a project where both nuanced acting and well honed writing are in good supply. The Follower is a collection of three short films which has been produced by the Saltmine Trust. The three films look at Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Day as if they were told today. Actor and writer Richard Hasnip takes the lead role of Peter and it's through him that the audience experiences each event.
The first film is Palm Sunday, and it is the simplest of the three. Peter stares down the open road which he and the others used to travel to Jerusalem and he recounts the feelings of popularity and fame that engulfed him that day. The location switches between the road and the inside of a pub and back again. Peter addresses the camera directly interspersing his narration with some wry observations. Despite how greatly many dream of being hailed by a large crowd, "it didn't seem like this was the moment of his dreams." Palm Sunday ends with Peter stating "it only took two words from him to change my life forever."
In contrast to the first film, Good Friday dramatises a telephone conversation between Peter and a female journalist. Whereas the other two films present a Peter able to offer cool reflections on these events, this film catches him in the emotional turmoil of late Good Friday. Jesus has not yet been resurrected, Peter hasn't even heard of Judas' death. He is scared, angry, depressed and grieving. There are a couple of particularly nice touches such as when Peter tries to pass over his denial of Jesus. The film is shot in a gritty, hand-held camera style reminiscent of the TV show Spooks.
The final film returns to more direct narration. It is sometime after Easter Day, and Peter recounts both the events of Jesus's resurrection, and their reconciliation on a beach some days later. Shots of Peter in the countryside are interspersed with flashback footage from Easter Sunday. Mary tells a cynical and despondent Peter the incredible events she has witnessed, but he is unmoved. Unmoved, that is, until Jesus appears in the room with them. In arguably the strongest moment of all three films, Peter's head whips around to stare at his resurrected master. The camera freezes to capture his astonishment and joy - an poignant way to show Peter, quite literally, lost for words.
My only minor quibble is with the soundtrack. Whilst the background music generally gets it about right, the soundtrack, particularly in the second film, is littered with distracting computer generated sounds. Whilst these do notch up the tension, it's somewhat dissipated by overuse.
Thankfully the films' pluses more than compensate for this minor issue. In addition to strong performances, and sharp writing, James White's camerawork and editing greatly enhance the three scripts. Even well acted, dramatic monologues can be dull if filmed without innovation, yet both the first and final films are fully engaging. But it's the second film where White really triumphs, instilling claustrophobia and paranoia in just the right quantity.
The other strength of these three films lies in keeping Jesus off camera. The idea of telling the story of Jesus in modern times is hardly new. Neither is the idea of having one of his followers tell the tale whilst he stays off camera. The 50s biblical epics went that route over and over again. What makes these films work, however, is combining these two concepts.
A modern day Jesus is too distracting. He may look more like us, but we still can't really relate to him. But we can relate to a modern day Peter. The error prone leader of the early church portrayed as one of us is all the more compelling. The makers of these films know that if Peter in all his frailty can follow Jesus, then maybe we can too.
The Follower is available on DVD or to view online from the Saltmine Trust.