You always take your life into your hands when viewing a production on a religious theme. There is a tendency to either drag the story kicking and screaming away from its historical roots or to be slavish in following the text. This latter is difficult given the lack of dialogue in the Bible. It wasn’t written as a dramatised novel.
Therefore there is always interpretation involved in doing things like this. The question is what prejudices (and we all have them) are brought to bear. The BBC Easter production done a few years ago I found so dreadful that I couldn’t watch all of it!
One of the scenes that really did it for me was the cleansing of the temple where Jesus opens a caged dove letting it go (just the one) and looking knowingly at the High Priest who decides that Jesus is therefore too much of a threat and decides he must die. Anyway enough of past scars. how about this one?
Well I must say that Tony Jordan, the writer, and the BBC have done brilliantly. I can live with the blue dress (5th century Byzantine artistic interpretation to represent royalty) and the Magi (there are only three presents mentioned we don’t know how many or their names, and that in the gospel they go to Jerusalem and Herod), and the inn (they would most likely have stayed in a house – the churches in the middle east have interpreted it that way) and several other things along the same lines. These passed me by.
What was captured so brilliantly was the whole drama of it. The sense of going outside of a comfy tale and imagining the impact of what happened. The people stop becoming plaster saints and become real human beings, fallible, uncertain, worried, scared. Just like the rest of us.
Tatiana Maslany portrayed the young Mary with great ability. Her vulnerability and strength of character came through so well. The scene towards the end where Joseph goes to find a midwife captures the isolation and pain and fear so well. The programmes showed convincingly how she went from a care-free girl to being the mother of Jesus.
Joseph comes through as a man of great moral courage as well as being convoluted by doubt and anger. His winning through, although we don’t really doubt it, was played with conviction and understandable angst.
I loved the idea of Thomas playing a sceptic, an oppressed person struggling with the idea of God who can say “I don’t know who God is anymore”. I liked the way that the Archangel Gabriel is not portrayed as overwhelming light that automatically stops doubt or questions.
I love the struggle and the doubts and the fears. And within it all the coming of the Son of God. A baby. The promised Messiah.
Tony Jordan was asked if he had thought of downplaying the Virgin Birth:
“If you accept that Jesus is Son of God, why would you not believe that Mary was a virgin, and that God must have had some hand in the impregnation.
”Quite how – whether it was a whiff of steam that came through the nostrils and into the semen, or whatever – is beyond my comprehension, but to me, as a sequence of events, it makes perfect sense.”
Tony Jordan also said (in the Telegraph):
The only thing I know for sure is that the words I read as coming from Jesus Christ are the most truthful thing I have ever heard. As a blueprint for mankind, it is so smart that it couldn’t even have come from a clever philosopher. Who would have been smart enough to say ‘He who is without sin cast the first stone’? Wow! That’s pretty cool.”
It all clicks for Thomas, the shepherd, when he is told that the Messiah comes for someone such as him. I suspect that Thomas reflects Tony Jordan’s own journey. A slightly gritty, emotional re-telling of the Nativity that has an emotional core to it that makes it the best nativity I have seen. Go see it on iplayer if you haven’t seen it yet.