• 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, January 17, 2020

    Good Omens (2019)
    Episode 1:In the Beginning


    There's a surprising amount of biblically themed television on at the moment. Before Christmas Netflix released the one off First Temptation of Christ and they followed it up on New Year's Day with their modern-day series Messiah. The end of 2019 also saw the crowd funded app-release of The Chosen (read more at FilmChat) and now, just two weeks into 2020 and the BBC has broadcast the first episode of Good Omens a quaint comedy drama about the anti-Christ.

    It's usually clear how seriously the BBC is taking a production by the quality of the cast. Here Good Omens stars Neil Tennant and Michael Sheen suggesting this is a fairly high priority in their New Year's schedule. Tennant and Sheen play Crowley and Aziraphale (ever destined to be called "the other one" in our house) an angel and a demon who have been watching the fate of humanity since the Garden of Eden.

    The first episode starts with an introductory monologue delivered very much in the style of the original The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, only it soon emerges the narrator (Frances McDormand, more acting nous) is actually God. Then we're transported to the Garden of Eden, a small green enclave set in the wilderness (see here) where a snake emerges to tempt Eve, who passes the apple to Adam and moments later the two are stepping out into the wilderness.

    Adam and Eve scenes are hardly novel (see my list) but this brief segment is interesting for three reasons. Firstly, because Adam and Eve are both played by actors with African heritage, which will please all those who favour a relatively close alliance between Genesis and current scientific theory, (particularly the theory that Mitochondrial Eve was from Africa). Secondly, because the serpent here is very reminiscent of that in Darren Aronofsky's Noah (2014), particularly because of the way the camera is more concerned with the snake than either of the humans. And then lastly because Eve and Adam leave Eden with the flaming sword. Wait a minute, what?

    The shot cuts to a now-flaming swordless Aziraphale (Sheen) standing on top of the walls of Eden. As he scans the horizon, he's joined by the snake who quickly transforms into the almost human form of Crowley (Tennant). The two get to chatting and it gradually turns out that they are both somewhat ambivalent about their commander's orders and concerned they might have already messed up their special roles. And it's this humanising of the supernatural beings which is the heart of the series. Sheen admits he gave away the flaming sword out of concern for Adam and Eve's welfare. Tennant that banishing them from the Garden was "a bit of an overreaction". "I can't see what's so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil anyway". Sheen worries he did the wrong thing, to which Tennant shares his own concern that he may have done the wrong thing.

    [Ep.1 Spoilers] The two strike up an unlikely friendship, such that when the show fast forwards to just before the present day, they are still friends. The Anti-Christ is about to be born to the wife of a privileged White-House chief of staff. There's a mix-up at the hospital and the baby somehow goes home with the wrong couple. Meanwhile Crowley suggests to Aziraphale that Armageddon is good for neither of them and the two hatch a plan to work together incognito. Crowley's bad influence will be counteracted by Aziraphale's good influence - both will be able to claim they are acting in their employers best interests. Crowley by doing his job, Aziraphale by making the anti-Christ less evil.[End Spoilers] By the end of the episode we are up to the present day, though the period details are deliberately mixed up, presumably to give things a more universal flavour (time-wise at least, the series is stereotypically British)

    It's an interesting premise, with more than a few nods to Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore's Bedazzled (1967). There is some great writing made all the better by Tennant and Sheen's delivery. Part 2 of the six part series goes out next Wednesday at 9pm.

    Edit: I should also point out that this series first aired on Amazon Prime in Spring 2019, but as I don't subscribe to that service it had passed me by. The finer details of its release also passed-by a group of Christian campaigners called Return to Order who got 20,000 signatures on a petition to Netflix to cancel to show only to discover when Netflix duly obliged that it was only available on Amazon Prime...

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