• Bible Films Blog

    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


    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Old Thoughts on Peter and Paul

    Over the next few weeks there will be a number of posts on films based on Acts, mainly the two 80s TV programmes, A.D. (1985) and Peter and Paul (1981). I've now seen the first episode of the former, but writing up my thoughts on that will have to wait until I have a bit more time. So for now I thought I'd edit and post a few thoughts I wrote back in December 2004. Please be warned this is not he best, or most well informed, writing I have ever produced!


    Watching Peter and Paul is rather like reading the book of Acts. Obviously that's the intention - although the film is much more than a simple reproduction of Luke's second great work - but it also reflects the way Acts starts off well, but peters out towards the end (pun most definitely intended).

    Hopkins is, as you'd expect, great value and he produces a really good mix of Paul the hothead that comes through so clearly from his writings. At the same time he avoids playing Paul as the kind of vitriolic bigot that he's so often caricatured as today. This view always seems a bit out of context, and casts him as someone who would be unlikely to achieve what he did. Hopkins does this better than any of the other actors I've seen play Paul, although surprisingly he delivers Paul's most vitriolic line ("why don't they just go and castrate themselves?") coolly and calmly, as if he's talking about removing a slightly annoying toenail clipping.

    What I liked most about the programme was the way the script made constant biblical references like little extracts from the prophets, Psalms or now-familiar Pauline Hebrew Bible was pretty staggering when we consider that for him it wasn't all in one convenient little volume, he didn't have a concordance, and he didn't have the luxury of being able to leave a gap and cut and paste the quote in later. He seems pretty steeped in the Old Testament - I imagine he would have had to have memorised large parts of it to be able to pull out all the passing references and connotations he does - and the film portrays this rather well.

    Paul is also shown referring to Jesus' teaching and here I was less convinced, particularly as he doesn't really do this much in his letters. We know he was familiar with bits of it, but he doesn't seem to use it that often and I'm not sure he would have known bits verbatim in their canonical form as the film suggests, particularly as some of those bits probably hadn't found this form when Paul was writing. But it is interesting how that as Paul goes on he uses Jesus' words less and less and starts to use his own words more. Perhaps this is suggesting that Paul's teaching started to drift from the message of Jesus, but it could simply mean that as Paul went on he had more and more confidence in his own material.

    There are however a few moments in the second half, which particularly focus on Paul, which let things down. Dramatically the shipwreck in Acts 27 is potentially an exciting scene, but all we get is reference to a storm that is coming followed by a cut to a scene of the shipmates arriving on the beach clinging on to bits of driftwood. Likewise, the legal drama is left to the scene with Festus and Agrippa. I do find this a bit tedious in Acts, but I couldn't help wondering how much better these scenes might have been is they had been made by someone with good experienced of making legal dramas.

    That said, the real let down is the depiction of Peter. Early on he seems to have decided he couldn't lead people despite a great Pentecost preach and called James in to do it for him. Peter then feels unhappy about the situation but tends to moan about it rather than getting on with the business in hand. He and Paul get on well and he seems to inspire Paul at the start but then doesn't speak to him for 8 years, and then there is the Council of Jerusalem and the clash of Galatians 2, and they never speak again. After this Peter wanders around going to Babylon (rather bizarrely) and eventually re-tracing Paul's steps, and only returning to real, on-the-edge, preaching once Paul dies. By this time it's only a matter of weeks before he'll die too, and it just seems like a dithering old man desperately trying one last attempt to make something of himself.

    This is wrong for a number of reasons. Firstly Peter is played into a weak role. It's not Robert Foxworth's fault he can't match Hopkins, but the script for Peter is poor too. Key Petrine moments are erased completely - notably Peter's last main solo narrative with his vision and Cornellius. But later on we delve into fiction (or perhaps its less well known legend with the closing scenes) whilst ignoring more popular "legends" such as the Quo Vadis moment. Fatally ending on the weak Peter, means that the film ends really badly. Once Paul goes, so does any resemblance of interest.

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