Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Passion – the story behind Easter coming to a TV near you

Perhaps buoyed up by the success of Manchester Passion (broadcast live on Good Friday 2006) and this Christmas’ Liverpool Nativity, the BBC are once again embracing programming with a religious theme this Easter. This time, it’s not just an hour-long passion play, but a dramatic retelling of the longer Easter story and Jesus final days.

(c) BBC - The Passion - Jesus, played by Joseph Mawle
The Passion is the theological term used for the suffering – physical, spiritual, and mental – of Jesus in the hours prior to and including his trial and execution by crucifixion.

You’ll be able to catch The Passion nightly on BBC One, starting on Palm Sunday (16 March) and finishing on Easter Sunday (23 March).

Having finished the adaptation of Bleak House, and wanting another strong story to tell, producer Nigel Stafford-Clark had already been looking at previous passion productions and considering how to make a new one. Hearing that the BBC were planning an Easter production based around Jesus, he successfully pitched to make a show that would reflect the motivations of all the central characters and not just Jesus.

The cast includes Jesus (played by Joseph Mawle); disciples Matthew (Daniel Evans), Peter (Darren Morfitt) and Judas (Paul Nicholls); Pontius Pilate (Jimmy Nesbitt), his wife Claudia (Esther Hall); Barabbas (Stephen Graham), Joseph of Arimathea (David Oyelowo), Jesus’ mother Mary (Penelope Wilton), Mary Magdalene (Paloma Baeza); as well as High Priests and temple guards.
(c) BBC - The Passion - Pontius Pilate, played by Jimmy Nesbitt

Filmed in Morocco, the drama will start with Jesus’ entrance through Jerusalem’s East Gate on a donkey, and follow him through the week to his crucifixion and resurrection (or “its startling aftermath” as one press pack put it).

While it’ll no doubt be dramatic and set through the eyes of those who wrote (Frank Deasy) and directed it (Michael Offer), The Passion does present a number of opportunities.

At a personal level, it’s a chance to take a fresh and different look at the Easter story. To be educated about the complexities of the political and religious maelstrom of Jerusalem in 33AD, and to better understand the power plays and tensions that were in action that week. Like eight sermons in one!

Whether or not everything on screen is perfectly accurate doesn’t really matter. Whoever retold a Bible story to a child and got it word (and meaning) perfect? The insight and challenge should come by looking at the story through the eyes of the Romans, the religious authorities as well as Jesus and his followers.

As a teenager, I recall a set of daily readings (might even still be downstairs in the new bookcases) that looked each day at different people Jesus met in the run up to Easter. It was refreshing way to re-view the story, not following the strict storyline or one particular gospel, but weaving a path through the different accounts.

(c) BBC - The Passion - Mary Magdalene, played by Paloma Baeza

Director Michael Offer commented:

“You can choose to watch it the way you want. If you have a religious sensibility you can view it that way, or you can view it simply as a piece of drama. As for the Resurrection, you can see it as a psychological manifestation of grief or you can see it as real and that he did come back.”

At a community level, I think it’ll be good to bring the origins of the Easter holiday to the fore. Giving an opportunity for Christians to talk about their faith, to comment on the soap opera story that unfolds throughout the week.

Some churches and organisations are going to great lengths to promote and use the series as a backdrop for their congregational activities. But even the very presence of The Passion in the media and on the box should stir up an awareness of God’s message of good news this Easter.

(c) BBC - The Passion - Jesus, played by Joseph Mawle

The accompanying website will go live on Thursday (28th) as the “multiplatform companion to the drama”. (Until then, the URL is in a holding pattern, redirecting to existing content within the BBC’s Religion & Ethics webpages.)

Update - Thur 28 Feb - The series' consultant Mark Goodacre (Associate Professor of New Testament in the Religion Department at Duke University) is over in the UK for the series premiere and launch in London's West End tonight. He's blogging about his experience ... via Ramblings from Red Rose.

Update - Sun 2 Mar - reactions from the preview screening are appearing in the press along with background pieces: Guardian (twice), Times.

1 comment:

Cosmo said...

This will be interesting to watch and see the reactions - which I'm sure you will post about.

As for the directors comments about viewing the piece: I wonder how many other psychological manifestations of grief had such an impact on the world?