• 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


    Tuesday, June 26, 2018

    More Old Thoughts on Peter and Paul (1981)

    For a while now I've been meaning to post a few thoughts I wrote down after an early viewing of the 1981 film Peter and Paul, and seeing as Paul, Apostle of Christ was released on DVD and blu-ray last week, this seemed an opportune moment. As with the last time I posted some old thoughts on this film, the thoughts below date back at least a decade so they perhaps don't reflect what I would write about the film today, but I thought it might be of interest to some, and in any case I'm trying to gather up some of the bits and pieces I have written elsewhere on the internet that have subsequently disappeared. It's actually interesting to me how much I have moved on from the kinds of things I wrote then, and how the film then taught me, or helped me understand other things, that I've come to just take for granted in the meantime. These thoughts were originally posted at a discussion forum, so please forgive the change of tone, but (spelling mistakes aside) I wanted to preserve the original as much as possible.

    I found it interesting that the film stresses the change of name being from the Hebrew Saul to the Roman Paul. I'd never really twigged that that was what went on. It certainly makes more sense of where the name change occurs in Acts, which was something that had always puzzled me.

    I found the stoning scenes quite interesting as well. In Jesus films we never really see one (save Life of Brian of course which doesn't really help factually), only Jesus stopping one. Here we see a few, and there are a few interesting details. In one of them its actually a woman who throws the first stone which I thought was a curious twist on John 8. One thing I've always wondered is how come Paul survived so many stonings. I mean unless you run out of rocks or the stoners have a really bad aim, it's difficult to visualise. And the film did this well. (FWIW I'm sure that at one point the actor who plays Steven is an extra who throws a stone in another scene - irony). Also interesting that in some of the scenes the crowd gets stoned just for being there.

    The way the restrictions get handled is thought provoking as well. I guess going into the film I thought Paul had agreed on certain compromises which he then seems to flout later in his letters. The film takes the view that the Jewish church rejects salvation by faith alone, but agrees with Paul pretty much, but then quickly goes back on it, leading to the argument with Peter and Paul from Gal 2. I presume their version of things sees Acts as airbrushing, or rather consolidating a longer debate into one incident.

    I hadn't realised btw that Silas was being played by Gimli (John Rhys-Davies). And for British viewers the main Juadiser in the film is played by the guy who plays Howard (as in the legendary Howard and Hilda from Ever Decreasing Circles starring Richard Briers)

    The slave girl of Philippi here is "gifted" rather than demonised, and this generally fits with the way the film downplays the supernatural elements of the story. So Pentecost occurs before the film, the visions are restricted to bright lights, Paul's sight is restored but it only looks like some dried skin is soothed or something, the death of Annanias and Saphira is ignored (again, a bible film that cuts out the troubling bits), Peter's escape from jail is an earthquake rather than an angel, the supernatural intervention surrounding the shipwreck is missed out and we just see them washed on to the beach. There are some supernatural elements, but they are generally sidelined. Its particularly interesting then that the film gives us the definition of a miracle as an "event that produces faith"

    As I think I said above one of the things I liked about the film was the way it worked later themes in as if Paul is developing them, or coining them and coming back to them. I particularly liked the way it works 1 Cor 1 in there. (one day I might do a film series / or essay on the use of this passage - it also occurs in The Mission, Three Colours Blue and Four Weddings and a Funeral).

    I was also surprised that Cornellius' vision was absent. It seems to me that Acts really hinges on ch 8-10. The execution of Stephen forces many members of the church to leave Jerusalem and thus take the message further afield, then Paul is appointed to the gentiles and Peter has his vision. This film makes little of the first aspect, and nothing of the last.

    I also thought the dispute between Paul and Barnabas was handled effectively and the whole portrayal of Paul as a great man, but one who is flawed is the films real strength.

    One other thing I though was interesting was how at times the film casts both Peter and Paul as Jesus, through certain scenes / shots that are very reminiscent of Jesus. Peter gets this early on in an upper room, and Paul somewhat later on as he stands silent before Nero.
    Hope you found this trip down memory lane interesting

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