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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, April 12, 2018

    A.D. (2015) - Part 11

    This is part 11 of a series of posts covering A.D. episode by episode and are initial impressions not a review. You can read them all here
    After the announcement in previous episodes that Caligula intends to place his image in the temple this episode finds panic over the potential for riots over the issue. Caiaphas and Pilate are trying to manoeuvre things politically whlist the zealots to co-opt the Ethiopian official to help in their violent schemes. Somehow Caiaphas knows about this but fears if he goes to Pilate he will be seen as a Roman collaborator and if doesn't that not only will Pilate blame him, but the revolt's inevitable failure will result in the Jews being crushed by roman might. Understanding, but nevertheless unsympathetic to this plight, his wife Leah meets Pilate's wife in secret and tips her off. Pilate wastes no time hauling the Ethiopian official before him, shaming him and sending home alone.

    Claudia tries to free Joanna, but it caught in the act, but Pilate's only concession is to let Claudia decide if she will die quickly and quietly by strangulation, or suffer crucifixion. Joanna makes the choice herself, opting for the former, and it's Cornelius who Pilate charges with doing the deed. Whilst several Christians have died for their faith in the series so far, I think this is only the second time a principal character has after, obviously Stephen.

    Meanwhile Peter and Philip have a meet up in Samaria, during which an angel appears to Philip, but not to Peter even though he is stood right beside Philip. The angel tells Philip to head to the Jerusalem-Gaza road. Peter heads off to the beautiful seaside location of Joppa and is reunited with Mary Magdalene and Tabitha who is dying from the wounds incurred during her flogging.

    This nicely joins things up, and it's interesting though to consider how radical a reworking of this passage this is when considered in terms of its portrayal of women. As one of the few women in Acts she is almost as cherished today as she was back then it's good to see her role developed a little, but it's also notable how radically her role has changed. In Acts 9 Tabitha is loved for "always doing good and helping the poor" and has apparently made many clothes for the women of Joppa. Whilst A.D. leaves space for this she has progressed to the stage where she had left her home town to become a professional seamstress in an important family.

    As noted in my comments on episode 10 she also was moved into a more typically male role - within biblical films and the modern imagination at least - by being flogged for her profession of faith. It's this flogging that ultimately results in her death (rather than becoming "sick" Acts 9:37). So in contrast to the rather passive figure of the Bible completing stereotypically female acts in a homely manner; here we find a career women who suffers a sterotypically male punishment.

    The other way in which this sequence defies gender stereotypes by reworking the source material is in Mary Magdalene's role. In the New Testament, Mary has disappeared from view long ago (she doesn't even feature by name in Acts). Here however, not only does she seems to push/transport Tabitha all the way from Jerusalem to Joppa (even though Peter was doing a similar journey at a similar time), it is also her that has the faith that Tabitha can be raised from the dead, and talks Peter into it. In Acts it is two men who "urge" Peter to come and the implication is that he find the faith fro this himself. Whichever way things worked out then, here it is Mary that is taking the initiative and is the one that has the faith. Again more evidence of the series' somewhat more socially progressive position.

    The episode culminates with the story of Philip and the Ethiopian official. Expelled from Jerusalem, his problems only appear to have got worse. In contrast with the account from Acts, he's no longer moving but stationary as the his wheel has come off his chariot and he is dejectedly sitting on his chariot reading Isaiah when Philip appears over a hill. The second part of the story however does follow Acts 8:26:40 very closely to the extent that Philip has barely finished lifting the man back out of the water before the Spirit whisks him away. There's a flaring special effect - the kind that the series as a whole has been getting away from, coinciding with it's improvement as a series. You can still view this scene here. Incidentally, Peter Chattaway wrote a nice piece on this scene at the time, including looking at a number of other portrayals of this incident.

    However, the episode saves its final shot for one of Pilate taking delivery of the statue of Caligula. It will be interesting to see how the final instalment in this series manages to marry up this story-line so rooted in Jerusalem with the growth of the early church that is increasingly happening elsewhere.



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