Monday, 17 March 2008

BBC Passion - Day Two

Today's episode, much more than yesterday, I think, contained a high proportion of fabrication. Once again, we saw the build-up to Jesus' arrest from the point of view of Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate. We saw more of their motivations and more of the political background. We also saw a lot more dissent from the apostles than is mentioned in the Gospels. An attempt (successful, in my view) has been made to create a multi-layered drama rather than a story from one person's point of view.

I did find this a little more frustrating today, and there were times when I thought, "This is a total fabrication, and they're making Jesus more seditious than He really was." Once again, I was driven to my own Bible, and read the accounts in all four Gospels. This is the first time I've been moved to do this so immediately (actually during the programme this time) on the basis of a film or television programme.

As it turned out, the BBC portrayal of Jesus was a lot closer to the Gospels than I had thought. My mind has skipped over passages such as Matthew 23 in the past - but looking at it again, it is pretty seditious. And it would have frightened the chief priests and elders if they were trying to keep the peace in a crowded (and occupied) city in the run-up to a major Jewish festival.

And what of the pure invention - the conversation between John and Jesus, where John tries to persuade Jesus to leave Jerusalem and save Himself; Judas' desperate pleas to Caiaphas not to be made to betray Jesus; the cloak and dagger approach to the upper room in which the Last Supper is to take place; the conversation at the end between John and Peter, where they discuss whether Jesus will go through with it?

These are indeed all fabrications - but are they faithful fabrications? Do they help us to understand what happened in those few days, or do they simply try to put across the producer's own agenda?

For me, they are faithful attempts to explain the events of the Gospels, to put them into context. Viewers may or may not feel that they have succeeded, or even that they are necessary in the first place - but what the writer and producer have NOT done is to twist events to suit some secular agenda. There's no political correctness, no homosexuality, no suggestion that Jesus was sleeping with the prostitute - just a straightforward attempt to provide historical background to the events and to flesh out some of the characters so that we can understand them better.

The Bishops' Conference of England and Wales urges us to use this new production to evangelise. There are parts of the dramatisation that do not correspond to the Gospels, and there are some which are not in accordance with Catholic teaching (one of the more obvious so far being Mary's statement in her conversation with Jesus last night that "I didn't choose to have you, you know" - errrm, actually, one of the major reasons we revere Our Lady is precisely because she said "yes").

There will also be some parts that individuals will find are not in accordance with their own view of Jesus - we've all seen many film and TV adaptations of the greatest story ever told, and we each have our own favourite portrayal of Jesus.

But this is a major and very watchable dramatic production which, let me say again, is being shown on BBC1 at prime time. It's expected to attract audiences of 10 million - that's one person in every six in the UK. It will be discussed at water coolers at work, on the internet, on the bus and in the pub.

I feel very strongly that we Catholics in the UK should be watching it, so that we can join in those conversations - maybe point out some of the inaccuracies, but also acknowledge the places where this version is faithful to the Gospels. And we should be ready to answer people's questions and to counter any challenges that they offer.

The third episode is being shown on Good Friday at 9:00 pm - that gives us plenty of time to get home from church and eat our hot cross bun. The first three episodes are being repeated on Easter Sunday from 2:15 pm, before the climax of the Resurrection is shown in the final episode at 7:30 pm. So most of BBC1's prime time viewing on what to the majority of people in the UK these days is probably just day three of a four day holiday is given over to explaining what this holiday is all about.

I don't say this very often - in fact, I haven't said it for years, if ever - but jolly well done, BBC!

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