The Passion started tonight over on BBC One. The first programme set up the background to Passover week in Jerusalem, the power struggle between the Romans and the Temple authorities, the destabilising influence of Jesus, and introducing the main characters.
Rome’s “rule is light” in the area. So while the Romans hang onto some control by keeping hold of the High Priest’s special robes, the Temple authorities and their Temple Guard are allowed to keep the city running.
“Children paying to enter their father’s house?”
The temple courtyard is half animal marketplace and half bureau de change. Roman generosity even extends to the practice of keeping everyday Roman currency out of the temple, and forcing temple visitors to change currency on the way in to buy animals to sacrifice at Passover.
While there is some balance, the cast is awfully white, like stained-glass windows in Western churches where Middle Eastern characters are all depicted in skin tones even paler than I am! And Pilate has picked up a thick Northern Irish accent – must have been watching Murphy’s Law in the chariot on the way down to Jerusalem.
It was impressed with the first programme. It didn’t overtly deviate from the story I expected to see and hear; yet it had detail and colour, making Jerusalem seem so politically complicated and fired up, raising the possibility of anti-Roman feeling (the actions of Jesus Barabbus) being confused with the less understood Jesus of Nazareth (“nothing good ever came out of Nazareth”).
The characters were more than 2D cut-outs from a Sunday School worksheet. With the dialogue so sparse, at the beginning Jesus seemed only capable of speaking in cryptic one-liners, but that improved as the momentum and passion built in the second half. Jesus’ mother Mary offered a great line while discussing the reality of what Jesus seemed to be walking into over the next few days:
“It’s easy to believe when you’re young”
A telling and thought-provoking line that tied together Mary’s experience thirty years ago, when she was young and chose to put all her trust in God. Yet people meeting Jesus, including the prostitute, are willing to turn from their supposed security and believe.
It was moody, atmospheric, a little mysterious, but with touches of humour in amongst the increasing body count. Despite the horrendous weather that the production faced last summer while filming, Morocco does offer a rich backdrop to the drama. One scene sillueted people walking across the ridgeline of a hill – reminiscent of The Seventh Seal.
At the end, it felt odd to see so much of the coming episodes revealed … and then I remembered that the story (and the ending) is pretty well known, so there’s no need for the programme makers to keep their powder dry.
I think it’ll be interesting to see the depiction of how Pilate (Jimmy Nesbitt) and Caiaphas (Ben Daniels) make their decisions around what happens to Jesus, and to feel how the mood of the crowd is influenced and changed as the week’s events unfold.
Do leave a comment and let me know what you think. The second part will be broadcast between Eastenders and Crimewatch on Monday night at 8.30pm. And Mark Goodacre has interesting commentary on the production over at his NT Gateway Weblog.