Having temporarily ousted Channel 4 from the best religious TV programming slot this Easter (with The Passion), the BBC takes the battle onto 4's home turf - the demythologising Bible documentary. Offering "new evidence challenging the biblical story" this documentary will look at the astrological phenomena that may have lay behind the star of Bethlehem. Occasionally, the Beeb's website is frustratingly unjoined up about these things. The programme's blurb is totally unconnected to the front page linked detailed BBC magazine article and then there's precious little available on the BBC religion site. The Nativity Decoded - 25th Dec. 19:30, Channel 4
Also known as Decoding the Nativity. No doubt some of the "new evidence" offered by the BBC documentary will also feature in this - a more extensive, two-hour look at the Nativity story. Given Rowan Williams's highly publicised comments last year on all this, it will be interesting to see what it actually has to say. Beckford is always interesting, and this is produced by Carbon who did a good enough job with Easter's Secrets of the 12 Disiciples. Channel 4 has also put together a decent microsite for this one, even if they don't appear to have decided what to call it yet.
Also of interest is The Bible Unearthed - 8am on the History Channel. Even if this isn't an edited version of last month's The Bible's Buried Secrets the content is highly likely to be similar.The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - 26th Dec. 17:50, BBC1
Anyone hoping for a Jesus film on anywhere over Christmas will have to make do with the story's best known allegory. I'm sure I don't really need to say too much more on this. Christian viewers at the time were either a - just glad to see it on the big screen, b - mortified by the alterations that were made, or c - unaware of said alterations and so enjoyed it along with everyone else. The Jesus allegory is weakened, but certainly very much present, but having seen it twice when it came out, and at least once more since, I can't imagine I'll be making this a priority. For an alternate Jesus allegory see Brandon Routh in Superman Returns - 29th December 20:30 BBC1.
Elsewhere TCM offers up Ben Hur (3pm) and the History Channel puts on what seems to be a thirteen hour documentary on Rome: the Rise and Fall of an Empire. Programme starts at 10am. Constantine's on at 7pm, but no mention of Jesus.Secrets of the Jesus Tomb - 27th Dec. 11:00am - Channel 5
Repeat of the Channel 5's above average documentary from their Secrets of the Cross series. I reviewed this and offered a few additional comments at the time. I believe the rest of the series aired earlier in the week.
TCM will also be wheeling out Ben Hur at 09:15.The True Story: Herod the Great - 28th Dec. 11:00am, Channel 5
Not much on Five's website other than a brief summary "...this film attempts to get to the bottom of the myth and separate fact from legend, combining expert analysis, computer graphics and dramatisations". I think this is the Atlantic productions film, But I've not seen it.
Also on: National Geographic (8:00pm)Trial of the Knights Templar, Discovery Channel (4pm) Biblical Mysteries Explained.Androcles & the Lion - 29th Dec. 13:05, Channel 5
Not only is there no direct Jesus film this Christmas, but he doesn't even get a cameo. Nevertheless I am greatly looking forward to seeing Androcles and the Lion. It's a film I've obviously heard of but never had the chance to see. Prior to Life of Brian, this was the leading satire of the sword and sandal epics movies, based on a George Bernard Shaw play and starring the King and Queen of Biblical epics Victor Mature and Jean Simmons. It was originally going to star Harpo Marx too, but sadly he dropped out. I'll probably post a few thoughts on this in the next month or so.
And that's about all. Surprisingly it's Channel Five that offers the greatest selection, in what is generally a good year - although more for the documentary films than the dramas. Note for next year - the Diocese of London runs a similar service which might save me waiting to buy a TV mag next year.