• 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


    Thursday, January 03, 2013

    David Suchet: In the Footsteps of Saint Paul

    The BBC's major religious programme this year was a two part documentary on the life of St. Paul presented by Poirot actor David Suchet. Suchet admits a long term fascination with Paul and identified himself as a Christian in an interview with Strand Magazine. It's perhaps not surprising given his work on various audio versions of books of the Bible and his role as Aaron in Roger Young's 1996 version of Moses.

    The BBC has covered Paul a lot over the years, but the documentary that lives most with me is their 2003 documentary Saint Paul released in the US in 2004 (IMDb). I'm going to write more on my reminiscences of that documentary in a later post, but to summarise I found it really made the life of Paul come alive for me, despite some of the rather tenuous theories it also voiced.

    Sadly, whilst this two-part documentary ran to approximately twice the running time, it seemed to contain far less insight and was rather dull as a result. To a certain extent I think Suchet is to blame for this. This was very much a film about his journey to find out more about Paul and so it very much rested on his personality. Suchet is a great actor, but without a part to play he lacks the force of personality required to make this engaging for its two hour run time.

    Part of the problems also stem from the editing and Suchet's style of questioning. I've watched many similar documentaries but I've never really appreciated the skill that goes into interviewing biblical experts. Fail to clarify what's been said and you leave the audience behind, but as this documentary proves, clarify too much and you just end up repeating everything that's just been said. This may not be Suchet's fault, but a problem with the format which find him meeting expert after expert on location, and seemingly trying to take on what they are saying himself rather than enlightening the audience.

    None of which is to say the film is without redeeming features. Its stress on Paul's experience on the road is a useful counter to the breathless nature of Acts, and Suchet presses this home by repeating the fact that Paul walked at least 10,000 miles during his ministry.

    It's also interesting to hear about some of the pieces of information that the 2003 documentary was unable to bring to light - either for matters of time, focus or because they hadn't been uncovered nine and a half years ago. Take for example the early scenes of Suchet beneath the streets under Jerusalem, uncovering part of Herod's temple that had been buried for the best part of 2000 years. Some of the insights into the places Paul knew were interesting as well, tolerant Tarsus, philosophical Athens, or cosmopolitan Corinth for example.

    Sadly, in spite of the long running time, other aspects of Paul's story were rather glossed over, most notably the Council of Jerusalem summed up as the church agreeing with Paul - a gross simplification in my book.

    So overall it's a mixed, but rather dull, bag. Paul's life is a terrifically interesting story: The story of an actor's own voyage of discovery is rather less so.

    There is a bit more on this programme on the BBC website.

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