• 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.

    Friday, October 13, 2017

    A.D. (2015) - Part 3

    This is part 3 of a series of posts covering A.D. episode by episode & are initial impressions not a review. You can read them all here.
    Having ended the last episode with the Ascension, this one begins in Galilee with the rather odd sight of Peter watching his daughter from afar and explaining to John (and therefore us) that he's going to leave her with her grandmother so as not to endanger her by continuing to follow Jesus. It's a bit of a mixed bag as scenes go. On the one hand it's a cute reference both to the episode (Mark 1:29-31 and parallels) where Jesus heals Peter's Galilean mother-in-law and the fact that the gospel writers neglect to ever mention Peter's wife in her own right. The film's take on it - that Peter's wife has died - is not a bad theory.

    The downside of this scene however is the oddness of the way that Peter sneaks off and deserts his daughter, rather than explaining to her what he's doing. Apart from anything Pater's daughter is effectively a grown up and it seems to me, at least, that if you can't even be honest with your daughter - however noble your motives - then perhaps being the head of a soon-to-be major religion perhaps isn't the best role for you? Put it another way various films over the years have been taken to task in some quarters for portraying Peter or Paul in a bad light. Whilst the gospels are fairly honest about some of their mistakes this somehoe juts seems a little off. Fortunately though this isn't the last we see of Miss Cephas. Turns out the moment she discovers he's gone she comes and finds him and joins the disciples.

    Meanwhile the political scheming continues, this time with the introduction of Herod Antipas who is played by James Callis of Bridget Jones and Battle Star Galactica fame. Bible film swots will also recall Callis played Haman in 2006's One Night with the King. It's a piece of casting that does rather provide further evidence for Richard A. Lindsay that Antipas is typically portrayed as a "queer" character (p.105-112).

    The added political/Roman angle was one of the things that made the 1985 version of A.D. a success, but in this series it's less effective. This is partly due to the series' overblown style. The Romans' domination over the inhabitants of Judea has to be rammed home, hence in this episode the recorded events of Pentecost alone are deemed insufficiently dramatic, so they have to be combined with Pilate deciding to strong-arm his way into the temple, and with Jewish freedom fighters looking to attack as well. The conflict ends when, rather ludicrously a Roman soldier corners one of the attackers only to drop his guard and have his throat slit. Perhaps it's a metaphor for western forces in the Middle East or something, but it seems a little silly. That said, it's not even half as silly as the moment when one character starts to re-enact Life of Brian's "what have the Romans ever done for us scene" without even seeming to realise.

    As this series unfolds I'm starting to spot a pattern, in that each episode seems to contain one set-piece special effects moment. In episode 1 it was the earthquake accompanying Jesus' death. In episode 2 it was the ascension. Here it's the coming of the Holy Spirit. In all three cases it seems like these set pieces are meant to impress less committed viewers and keep them engaged, but their execution is poor. Rather than focusing on a single effective moment, the filmmakers stretch it out, spreading the budget too thinly and spending it in places where it's unnecessary. Here the moments inside the upper room are reasonably good, but the external shots of something akin to a comet circling the building before shooting down onto it are both unnecessary and poorly produced.

    What's also strange about it is the lack of effect that this incident has on the disciples. Typically such films portray this incident as the fearful disciples being given their courage, but of course that is, at best, an interpretation. Here however, the disciples are already confident enough and ready to go, they are only holding back in obedience because Jesus has told them they need to wait for the Holy Spirit. It's less about empowering and emboldening a scared and unequipped people, and more a showy way of granting them permission. I didn't like this at first, but it has made me reconsider the passage and challenge my preconceptions, and that is when biblical films are at their best.

    What is less commendable is the way that Peter's speech in front of the crowd is axed. Instead the events are mashed up with the healing of the lame man in Acts 3 and compressed into a single incident. This seems like a mistake, in Acts Peter's initial speech is such a pivotal moment. Speeches don't always make good telly, but even a greatly abbreviated version would have been better value than one of the ponderous fabricated speeches from Pilate, Caiaphas or Herod. Furthermore it means the thousands converting at Pentecost are doing so because they have witnessed a miracle, not because they are persuaded by an idea. Admittedly the miracle in Acts does bring in converts anyway, but I like the idea of people being persuaded by words and ideas, rather than power and spectacle.

    Next time, I'm going to have to try not to be so formulaic with my next review and avoid commenting  every, single, time, on the series tendency to push everything (particularly the violence) to the extreme.


    Lindsay, Richard A., (2015) Hollywood Biblical Epics: Camp Spectacle and Queer Style from the Silent Era to the Modern Day  Denver, CO: Praeger

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    • At 12:51 am, October 14, 2017, Blogger Peter T Chattaway said…

      The gospel writers might not mention Peter's wife, but Paul does (in I Corinthians 9:5). If Peter was a widower at this point in the story, he evidently got married again.

    • At 10:16 am, October 15, 2017, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Oops, yeah, forgot about that bit, which doesn't make what I wrote wrong, but it does raise questions as to why the filmmakers wrote it that way (and not say just have his wife come along instead of an invented daughter?)



    • At 10:29 am, October 17, 2017, Blogger Jan Schuette said…

      The post is really awesome and entertaining. It kept my eyes glued to it. It has become my favorite pastime reading to your posts.

      Jan Schuette


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