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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Son of God reviewed

Son of God

Making a television series or a feature film on a holy book or a historical figure comes with not one but many occupational hazards, like:

*Do you picturise every bit in the text, in order to give a complete picture? Or do you exercise editorial discretion, at the cost of committing the sin of omission?

*Do you take everything literally, interpreting the facts to the best of your ability? Or do you go for interpretations and the use of explanatory dialogue/silence, as the narrative situation demands, and throw yourself open to being accused of the sin of commission?

Son of God has been accused on both counts, but I do not want to get into religious territory at all. If it is preaching to the already converted, so be it. If it helps the uninitiated in getting a

capsule of the Bible in 135 minutes of audio-visual time, and the life and times of Christ, as conveyed through the Bible, fine. In the end, for a reviewer, is it great cinema? No! Is it good cinema? Quite good!

Adapted for cinematic release from the History Channel’s 10-hour mini-series, The Bible (2013), the film is essentially a feature-length re-edit of the second half of the series, based on the New Testament. It tells the story of genesis till Jesus, in rapid fire montage, and then settles on the sketchy biography of its protagonist Jesus, as an adult, delineating it through his preaching, crucifixion and resurrection.

Produced by the husband-wife duo of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, the series and the film both have Roma playing Mary, mother of Jesus. Burnett, a four time Emmy Award winner, has this to say in reference to the film version, “The disciples (of Jesus) didn’t know they were in the Bible. They were living their lives; they were following a charismatic leader who they think may be King David, and following them. It’s only revealed much later that it’s actually the Son of God. So very tense times, but in that epic scale there is this intimate, beautiful love story.” And in the wake of his hit TV series and encouraging box-office collections from cinema halls, Burnett already has the next scriptural series in the pipeline. “We’re working on a series called AD, which starts at the crucifixion and we’re hoping Diogo (Morgado, who plays Jesus) will be in it. It tells this dramatic story of what is going on in that first century,” he said in an interview.

In the words of Mary Downey, “If you came to the movie and you didn’t know anything about Jesus you would really get a sense of the journey of his life. It was our job to make sure that the journey emotionally connected with you. So we told the story, on the one hand, as a political thriller, and at the same time, it is a beautiful love story. There is intimacy to it, and we hope that you’re drawn in, that you are emotionally engaged and that you get a sense that you really know who Jesus is.”

Morgado told Oprah Winfrey on air that doing the role was an emotionally-stirring experience. The actor said, “I remember that I was on the cross and I saw all my life just flashing in front of my eyes…it was this overwhelming feeling that every, small, single second of my life was leading up to that moment-- and that was just huge for me.” Born in Portugal, Morgado is a huge star there, and in Spain and Brazil. The strapping, 6-foot 3-inch Morgado was chosen because he looked someone “…with strength, presence, charisma, tenderness, kindness, compassion and natural humility," says Downey--"Someone who could be both a lion AND a lamb." A few weeks before shooting was to begin, there was still no Jesus. In Ouarzazate, Morocco, a member of an advance team remembered an actor who had been in another project shot there, a year ago. And luck was with Morgado. As he said later, in an interview, "Long after I'm gone, this is going to be my legacy."

How often has a Latino got to play Jesus Christ? Undoubtedly, it is a dream role. Morgado has a great physique, deep, intense eyes and a look that has been carefully designed, with appropriate make-up and clothing. I have a feeling that his voice has been dubbed, since he speaks flawless English. Playing Mary is co-producer Roma Downey, who was seen in the leading role of Jackie Kennedy Onassis in the Emmy award winning six hour mini-series, A Woman Named Jackie. In the present film, she has some good scenes towards the end, and emotes well. The younger Mary is played by Leila Mimmack. Greg Hicks (one of the UK’s best known Shakespearean actors) is a suitably nasty yet politically well-skilled Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect, governing Jewish territories in Asia for Julius Caesar.

Others in this huge cast are generally above par: Amber Rose Revah  (of The Devil’s Double, as Mary Magdalene), Matthew Gravelle (gravel-voiced Welsh TV actor, as ‘doubting’ Thomas), Joe Wredden (The Musketeers, Judas Iscariot), Said Bey (The Man Who Sold the World, Matthew), Adrian Schiller (Dr. Who, Caiaphas), Simon Kunz  (Match Point, Nicodemus), Sanaa Mouziane (Martha), Noureddine Aberdine (Joseph of Arimathea) and Idrissa (Simon of Cyrene).  

Son of God is directed by UK-based Christopher Spencer, who has produced, directed and written a wide range of dramas and documentaries, and his credits include The Concorde’s Last Flight. There is a British tonal quality to the Son of God. Spencer does not go over-board on the special effects trip, though he could have made that component the centre-piece in telling the tale of a figure known for some stunning miracles. Written by Richard Bedser, Christopher Spencer, Colin Swash and Nick Young, the dialogue has many instances of being purely functional and uni-dimensional. But they must be given due credit for their efforts in adapting an epic which has several language versions (Jesus’s cross bears an inscription in three languages, and none of them is English).

You cannot conceive a film like this without a rich orchestral score, and here it comes from Oscar winner Hans Zimmer (Gladiator).

The Bible was shot with a crew of over 400, from the UK, South Africa, the US and local Morocco. Casting was conducted out of London and Morocco. Post-production was completed in London.

Rating: ***


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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