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The Bible - History Channel TV Series - Blog Entries

One of the many religious shows over Christmas was a new dramatization, The Bible, a mini-series from USA's History Channel that premiered on TV3 and Channel 5. From advance reading I knew it was well meant and stemmed from the strong religious faith of producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnet. I wanted to like it, but my initial reaction wasn't too enthusiastic. In particular I wasn't enamoured of the Old Testament sequences. Partly it's a problem inherent in trying to cover the whole Bible - the full text is just too unwieldy for filming. A mini-series helps in that it allows more time, but this version didn't escape some of the common pitfalls, like the one-dimensional characterisations. A lot of it was without context, and the intermittent use of a narrator didn't solve the problem. Dramatic coherence was damaged by time jumps - captions like '40 Years Later' are never a great idea. The spectacular aspects of the Old Testament stories were overemphasized - obvious example being the parting of the waters as Moses led his people to freedom. The violence was quite strong and some scenes were downright disturbing (e.g. Pharaoh's men throwing babies over a cliff). If you knew the stories you'd have some idea of how they fit in to the story of God's people, but to anyone without the background and sound catechesis it must have seemed all very strange and unappealing. For educational use it's a way to familiarise students with Old Testament stories that were very familiar to an older generation. One scene that struck me as useful for classes on images of God was Moses encounter with God in the burning bush (clip above).

So far the New Testament section is much better. The actors playing Mary and Joseph do a good job, and their part of the story has more coherence, a tighter focus and a more personal approach. The strong violence is still there, and while some scenes, like the miraculous catch of fish and Jesus walking on the water (clip on left) are well done , others are stilted. Diogo Morgado does reasonably well as Jesus and becomes more appealing in the role as you get used to him. More anon as I catch up on the final episodes.


I've finally caught up on the rest of The Bible series. Fair play to TV3 (Irl) and Channel 5 (UK) for giving such a huge chunk of prime time TV to a religious series. As the series moved on through the life of Jesus it grew on me. I got to like Diogo Morgado in the role of Jesus, and the women characters were well done, especially the roles of Mary Mother of Jesus (played by co-producer Roma Downey), Mary Magdalen (Amber Rose Revah) and Pilate's wife Claudia (Louise Delamere). For educational use there are some useful set scenes - for example the sequence from the start of that fateful Passover week was well handled, with considerable attention given to the atmosphere and political background. The violence was still strong as in the Old Testament sequences, even at times gratuitous, though not on the extreme level of Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ.

You could see however the influence of that other film - e.g. the devil figure moving through the crowd, and the atmospheric scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Pilate character, though a bit one-note, was one of the most menacing Pilate's I've seen on film, thanks to the acting presence of Greg Hicks. Of the apostles, Peter, John and Judas made an impression but could have been stronger.

The Resurrection always poses a challenge to film makers and this version takes an approach very like that seen in BBC's The Passion from a few years ago - Mary Magdalen heads out to the tomb on her own, finds it empty and meets Jesus, though all too briefly. The meeting on the road to Emmaus is conflated into the apostles breaking bread and meeting the risen Jesus in the upper room (this setting is reminiscent of Zefferelli's Jesus of Nazareth). Earlier, in another similarity to BBC's Passion, Judas throws up after he has eaten at the Last Supper.

There's not much on Jesus' time on earth after the Resurrection, but the Ascension is done reasonably well. At least Jesus doesn't take off like a rocket as in one version I saw. Unlike many film versions there is some coverage of events from the Acts of the Apostles. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is handled innovatively - lots of wind and speaking in tongues but no tongues of fire. The martyrdom by stoning of Stephen (Irish accent!) is fairly rough and I don't remember ever seeing that on film before. There was a touching scene of the apostles praying the Lord's Prayer. Paul is shown as a particularly nasty bit of work before his encounter on the road to Damascus, and unfortunately this side of him creates a much stronger impression that his post-conversion persona.

What I thought the series missed out on was the poetic side of the Bible - the Psalms and the parables in particular. Indeed while the series was technically adept I thought an innovative artistic hand was missing. All in all it was an impressive series in its broad scope, technically it was a fine achievement and there were some worthy performances and a few striking set pieces, but I wondered, especially in the Gospel sequences whether anything that new or exceptional had been done compared to other TV or big screen versions. However this series may bring the Bible stories to a new generation and make them curious enough to follow it up. Certainly the character of Jesus was portrayed in an appealing way, and now that the Gospel segments are being re-edited into a movie version called Son of God, due for release in February 2014, the reach of this project should increase considerably.


For more clips from the series click here.

(c) Brendan O'Regan 2013, 2014