One of the key links in all of this is Roman soldier Julius Valerius, who now finds himself sent to Palestine to serve as Porcius Festus's second in command. Paul is not shown appearing in front of the Sanhedrin, and the interaction with Felix is also omitted. However, Festus visits the Jewish leaders (Acts 25) and Acts' unfortunate suggestion that the high priest is a key part of the plot to murder Paul is implied here as well. The veiled hatred in this scene is contrasted with the words of Paul in the next. Whilst he remains in his cell he repeats for his friends (that have assembled there) the words from 1 Corinthians 13. It's a superbly executed speech by actor Philip Sayer.
Paul appears in front of the court convened by Festus where matters are brought to a close by Paul's appeal to Caesar. We next meet him on a boat with Julius Valerius and Luke. This is the scene that I remember from my childhood (during its UK broadcast). Whilst Paul and Julius talk (pictured), Luke notes down the things that have happened / are happening. It was the first time I really thought about the fact that the gospels had authors. What I didn't appreciate at the time is that Julius who, as the programme has gone on, has gradually become more prominent, is also mentioned in this passage of Acts. Throughout AD he's been portrayed as a faithful and moderate Roman, rejecting the excesses of the empire in favour of open-mindedness and even-handed fairness. Now as he listens to Paul it's clear he's being drawn in. The film is about to underline the point that the noble qualities that Julius has displayed throughout find their home in Christianity. Acts records Julius as showing kindness to Paul. Both the memory of his name (which might otherwise be unlikely to be remembered), and his noted kindness give some support to AD's idea that Julius ultimately becomes a Christian. When they dock at Sidon Julius is baptised (this time in the sea).
Strangely Paul's shipwreck is omitted, this may be for budgetary reasons (though Jon Solomon mentions that this was considered an expensive production at the time). And so Paul arrives rather suddenly and is re-united with Priscilla and Aquila. He also meets Julius's wife and a number of others. But then he is released and heads off to Spain. My limited understanding is that tradition is divided at this point with some sources saying Paul was killed under Nero and others saying he survived it to preach in Spain.
It's at this point that the other part of this film I remembered (and indeed conflated with the episode above) occurs. As Paul heads off to Spain he says farewell to Luke. Luke feels that the future God is calling him to concerns "parchment, pen and ink". "I shall have to write down all that has happened. There are men and women as yet unborn who must know of the Acts of Paul." "Not just of Paul" says the man from Tarsus "but of all the apostles of the word".
As Paul sails out of Italy, Peter sails in. The two men's boats cross and Peter even enquires about Paul's boat. Peter immediately appoints Linus in charge of the church of Rome and whilst the film is very much done with Acts, it continues to depict much of early church tradition, namely the fire of Rome and the subsequent persecution.
The fire of Rome is portrayed fairly well. Nero is planning to rebuild Rome, but the fire is very much an accident - neither he nor the Christians are responsible, though Nero blames them nevertheless.
The persecution scenes in the latter part of the film are actually very disturbing. Peter is crucified upside down and Paul returns to Rome only to be executed by decapitation. This allows the film to support both strands of the traditions about Paul. Nero himself is present for Paul's execution which seems rather unlikely. Also as Peter raised on the cross the camera gives what is meant to be a point of view shot, though it rotates on the wrong axis.
But it's the scenes in the Colosseum which are particularly uncomfortable. Whilst their parents are being eaten alive by tigers and leopards we see a shot of their children playing joyfully dressed in lamb skins, seemingly unaware of the trauma they have in store. That scene is actually more disturbing by the scene of them getting ravaged by dogs moments later. The tension is heightened by Julius's daughter being amongst those sent into the arena, and for a moment is appears that she has been killed. When it's revealed that it was a similar looking girl who died instead the sense of relief, both for us and him, is somewhat slight.
The result is however that the remaining heroes finally become Christians, and take on orphaned Christians as their own. They return to Jerusalem remembering the words of Aquila "soon it will be night and we will be questioned about love". The film ends with a shot of Roman soldiers taking down the scaffold from Peter's cross in the sun. Words come up on screen "The Beginning". And so it was.
Labels: A.D. (Anno Domini)