• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    A Few Thoughts on The Passion

    My wife and I are working through the BBC/HBO version of The Passion (2008) this week. I think it's the first time I've seen it since the year it aired, so it was interesting to see it again properly. One of the things that's interesting about watching so long after it aired is that some of the actors have moved on and become much more well known for their roles in other programmes.

    Take, for example, Tom Ellis, playing Philip here. Since recording The Passion Ellis has gone on to star as the love interest in Miranda (a hilarious sitcom simultaneously sending up and revelling in the style of 80s sitcoms). As a result it's impossible to take him seriously in this. Likewise, I'm much more familiar with Bleak House than I was back then (which features Annas and the captain of the temple guard in different roles), and I've seen Paloma Baezan in 1998's Far From the Madding Crowd as well. All of these roles change the perception of these actors and the roles they fill here.

    One thing I've noticed this time around is how manipulative the character of Caiaphas is. Overall its a very sympathetic portrayal, but episode 2 contains at least two instances where he subtly alters the facts to make his argument more persuasive. It's a subtle touch, but exactly the kind of thing you see politicians doing on Question Time every week. First up he starts by objecting to Jesus' critique of the law, saying that without the law the Jews will become no different to the Romans, but then he somehow turns this round to say that this will lead to the Romans coming down more heavily. The logic doesn't really hold up, but the way in which it is argued is very persuasive. Likewise Joseph of Arimathea gets similarly worked over later on. Caiaphas, dressed in all his priestly regalia, subtly alters Jesus' words as overheard by the bird seller. He claims that Jesus said he would destroy the temple, rather than merely predicted that it would be destroyed.

    The quality of the writing is similarly evident throughout this episode (2) not least in the words of Jesus. The late Frank Deasy did a fantastic job here making the words sound fresher and more immediate. Sometime, I'd really like to take a closer look at the way Deasy had Jesus say certain things. I noticed a nice reference to Jesus Christ Superstar at one point as well.

    Another interesting scene in this episode is the anointing of Jesus' feet. Here it's performed by the prostitute Jesus reformed in the first episode, not Mary Magdalene or Mary the sister of Lazarus. This fits with the Synoptics, and Luke in particular, but goes against John (who identifies Mary as the anointer) and some church tradition (which has often, wrongly identified Magdalene). What really struck me this time around was the way that the only people the camera shows in the scene are the disciples. Judas and Philip are appalled by her actions and Jesus' failure to condemn her. The absence of external observers works to put a distance between Jesus and his followers who are soon to be upset by Jesus prophesying his own death, This is another great scene shot with a nice blue filter and in atmospheric light.

    The visual aspect of this episode is really strong actually, the colour scheme - a variety of light browns punctured by the occasional red Roman Road or black priestly turban - emphasises the poverty of most of the people of that day and stresses the gulf between them and the elite. The external scenes in particular are still very nice to look at.

    Tomorrow we should cover the crucifixion episode (3) which has been pre-figured today by the "trials" of Barabbas and the two robbers we met right at the start of episode 1. They already have slightly different approaches, one is definitely more terrified by what is happening to him and almost seems to act as if he is innocent, or at least didn't expect things to go so far. I can't remember which repents though, whether they continue along these tracks, or bring a surprise twist and making a more surprising twist - the bad robber being the one who repents.
    Anointing just disciples



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