• 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


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    Wednesday, January 17, 2018

    A.D. (2015) - Part 6

    This is part 5 of a series of posts covering A.D. episode by episode & are initial impressions not a review. You can read them all here
    After the focus on and death of Saul in the last episode, this episode picks up the start of the story of Saul. In comparison to the previous episodes, this one avoids a lot of the usual pitfalls. There are no big special effect moments and the violence is relatively minor compared to the rest of the series.

    Instead the episode rests heavily on the introduction of Saul and thanks to a great performance from The Fall's Emmett J Scanlan. Having watched various Acts films over the years Saul is often played as a relatively rational thoughtful man - he has to grow into the great Paul of Tarsus after all. Here, however, Scanaln is allowed to play it vert differently. Here Saul is the kind of privileged young hothead who has a bee in his bonnet about something but is so full of himself that he gets off on asserting himself violently. Saul is the kind of guy who writes angry aggressive tweets, or endlessly moans about feminists, or carries a torch in Charlottesville. He's unaware of the privilege of being a young white man in a culture where that cushions him from the reality of many people's lives. He has a massive sense of entitlement. When at first he isn't taken seriously he escalates his complaints and seeks an audience with the most powerful of his countrymen, Caiaphas. They should listen to him, right? After all he's confident and articulate, even if what he is raging about doesn't particularly form a strong argument.

    Having grown up in London during the troubles in Northern Ireland, Scanlan's Irish accent also evokes the violent religious zealotry that troubled the area at that time. There's no doubt it shouldn't - I know plenty of people from both North and South Ireland who are wonderful, compassionate, thoughtful people. But the media has given a platform to a steady stream of religious zealots with that accent in my lifetime. They're by no means representative, but nevertheless, my mind makes that shortcut even if it, too, is irrational. For me, at least, it gives an extra note to Scanlan's unhinged performance.

    I think what I most appreciate about this is that it makes me realise that the opening part of Saul's narrative has always felt a little iffy tome. The way he so quickly transitions from holding the coats during the stoning of Stephen to being the leader of a gang of thugs going round the country hunting down Christians seems disturbingly sudden. There doesn't seem to be a satisfactory reason why it is him doing this task rather than someone closer to Caiaphas or at least more prominent. The angry, yet privileged, young man driven by his irrational fears but critically left unchecked somehow makes sense of this to me. No wonder Peter and the others begin to flee.

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    • At 4:34 pm, October 02, 2018, Anonymous Paul (not that one) said…

      Thanks for the review. I too find Saul's zeal a little unsettling - both before and after conversion and it's good that the series doesn't shy away from this. Also hope you don't mind me pointing out the mistake in the first sentence ("death of Saul").


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