Last year, the enormous success of the miniseries The Bible stunned those who don’t really interest themselves much in matters of Christian faith, or think it’s something largely confined to fly-over states and a once-a-year holiday mass. Producers Roma Downey (yes, she of Touched by an Angel) and her husband Mark Burnett have taken pieces of that miniseries, added and edited other scenes, to bring Son of God to the big screen. It’s a long production, with uneven qualities and choppy editing, but it’s spiritually uplifting, even as one spends a good chunk of the final hour sobbing quietly into the popcorn.
The Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado plays Jesus Christ, which has to be a very tall order for any thespian. Gone are the days when the Son of God was depicted by a shining light, as in Ben Hur. Morgado is drop-dead handsome, but what really comes through in his depiction is a quietly palpable charisma, which makes sense when one thinks of the many followers Jesus had. The actor also does a credible job delivering Jesus’ famous lessons, but it’s his interaction with his mother (Downey) and his disciples, most notably Peter (Darwin Shaw) and John (Sebastian Knapp), from which we derive a real sense of Jesus as a man, a son and a teacher, not just a religious figurehead. Jesus’ invitation to Peter to become a fisher of men is particularly moving, as is that disciple’s disgust with himself after he denies knowing Christ.
Writers Spencer and Richard Bedser do an adequate job of limning the underlying tensions that combined into one vicious, albeit Biblically-prophesized, storm. Pilate (Greg Hicks) clearly despises the Jewish elders, who themselves worry that Jesus’ teachings will foment revolution against the Roman state, and in turn, lead to more bloodshed for the Israelites. The “trial” of Jesus by the elders is shocking, no matter how often you’ve read the relevant scriptures, but not as horrifying as Jesus’ subsequent torture and crucifixion. Although perhaps not as bloodcurdling as the crucifixion in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, it nevertheless reminds the viewer of the price paid for our salvation, by an individual born in a manger in Bethlehem.