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    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


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    Thursday, January 27, 2011

    A.D. (Anno Domini) - Episode 5

    Of all the episodes of AD the final one probably contains the least biblical content and thus has the greatest concentration on imperial Rome. It opens with the conclusion to last episode's cliff hanger. Paul is taken into Roman custody to protect him from those in Jerusalem who are seeking to harm him. The film dates this towards the start of Nero's rule (played with relish by Brideshead Revisited's Anthony Andrews). This is a bit of a leap historically speaking (though possible), but it fits well the impressive way that the script is starting to pull-together the once seemingly disparate strands of plot that it started out with.

    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.



    • At 6:00 am, January 29, 2011, Blogger Peter T Chattaway said…

      I have often wondered if this film really does portray the fire in Rome as accidental. It would seem so, yes, but if memory serves, there's a lingering shot on the face of the supposedly drunken soldier who started the fire, and I have sometimes wondered if the filmmakers were hinting that this person was told (not by Nero, who seems genuinely surprised by the fire when it happens, but perhaps by Tigellinus or one of Nero's other buddies) to start the fire while posing as a drunk.

      Granted, as conspiracy theories go, this one would be pretty odd: if you're planning on blaming the Christians, then why not have the soldier who starts the fire pose as a Christian, rather than a drunkard? And how could the conspirators be sure that the fire would grow all that big anyway?

      Still, the way the camera returned to that guy's face did make me wonder. Then again, perhaps the filmmakers simply wanted us to take one last look at the anonymous guy who unwittingly sparked the first major Roman persecution of the Christians.

    • At 5:10 pm, January 29, 2011, Blogger angmc43@hotmail.com said…

      When I saw the ending I felt a little cheated. I thought a better resolution would be to see Rome rebel and Nero kill himself (the novelization suggests this by having Valerius tell Paul that the provinces are in rebellion and that Nero's days are numbered). Then again, it was a sign of the times, when such Roman epics could no longer give such a happy denouement. A.D., PETER AND PAUL and the the 1985 mini-series of QUO VADIS? were such examples (the 1985 mini-series THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII also had its Christian character end the show by talking about dark times ahead).

      Actually, the shot of the scaffold-removing was NOT of Peter but the Golgotha demolition that started the series.

    • At 9:02 am, February 17, 2011, Blogger Matt Page said…


      Thanks for that, I'll have to go back and check it out and see what I think.

      A. Gerard

      Good catch on the scaffolding. I guess the thing with ending it with portents of dark times ahead reaches not only through Nero's era but through other anti-Christian tyrants such as Domitian and beyond. It also emphasises that the church grew through these trials which I kind of like. Each to his own though.


    • At 4:23 am, July 24, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      I wish to add a comment about the fire: The scene just before the drunk goes into the pub he's walking upright down the alleyway and appears sober when a prostitute asks him for a date. He tells her to get lost and then walks to the door of the pub and opens its. The next scene is him acting like a drunk. A few scenes later of the fire consuming the buildings the drunk is seen again, this time pushing a wagon full of straw and hay which takes down a a column holding up the balcony on the second floor. It appears he's with another man.

    • At 4:26 am, July 24, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      I have a question about the film A.D. Hopefully, someone can answer it for me. Three places in the film someone says, "Soon it will be night and we will be questioned about love." Is this Biblical? I read the entire Acts and don't see that. I like the sentence. Thanks so much.


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