Cert 12A 119mins Stars 3

This revisionist account of the last days of Jesus is a thoughtful, sombre and respectful discussion of scripture in a modern context.

It’s told from the view of Mary Magdalene who was maligned for millennia as a prostitute, until 2016 when she was officially recognised as true apostle by the Vatican.

I wish it had been braver in pursuing this intriguing and potentially controversial premise.

Rooney Mara is compelling as Mary, who rejects an arranged marriage and undergoes a political and religious awakening in the company of Jesus and his disciples.

She shares a deep spiritual connection with Christ, who is played as a shamanic saviour by Joaquin Phoenix. Interestingly a physical toll is exerted as Jesus performs his miracles such as raising Lazarus from the dead.

We see the blood-soaked crucifixion in an impressively sized Jerusalem. But the crowds are thin, the mighty Roman Empire is suggested rather than seen and there’s little in the way of epic spectacle. 

Ben-Hur (2016)

Director: Timur Bekmambetov (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

A biblical bromance goes bad in this fourth big screen version of the epic tale set in Jesus-era Jerusalem.

Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell give career worst performances as the lifelong friends Ben and Messala, a Jewish prince and Roman officer.

When Ben is falsely accused of treachery, Messala arrests his family and sends his buddy into slavery. Ben’s quest for revenge involves a sea battle, a chariot race and a chance meeting with a luxuriously dreadlocked Morgan Freeman.

As the owner of a racing team, his character performs the same function as Oliver Reed did in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000). Occasionally we hear echoes of Hans Zimmer’s epic score from that film as well.

Filmed in unrelenting unsteadycam, this feels like a TV mini series chopped down to cinema length when a buyer couldn’t be found, and a quick theatrical release considered an appropriate method of recouping the investment.

Contempt for the audience is a regular motif. The heavy fist of Roman oppression would seem a doddle compared to suffering the base level direction, writing and CGI on show here.

Assuming the grace of a one wheeled chariot, the film rattles through episodes of leprosy, arranged marriage, a stoning and crucifixion. Much needed momentum is lost whenever anyone stops to speak or think.

The 1959 version starring Charlton Heston became the first and only the third film to win eleven Oscars. At half the length, this film can only point to brevity as the only possible are of improvement.

Hunky carpenter Jesus keeps popping up to offer his message of forgiveness. But it’s hard to believe anyone involved in this shoddy level of craftsmanship is deserving of any.



Director: Kevin Reynolds (2016)

With Easter nearly upon us, this biblical story of Roman soldier finding Jesus has been sent to test our faith.

It’s a respectful if cheap looking plod along the sea of Galilee.

As the Lord Jesus risen from the dead, Cliff Curtis cures the occasional leper but otherwise it’s all far from miraculous.

Joseph Fiennes plays a Roman Tribune called Clavius statined in Judea in AD 33.

Having defeated Barabas in battle, is sent by Peter Firth’s Pontius Pilate to make sure a local revolutionary dies on the cross.

When three days later the body of Jesus goes AWOL, Clavius converts to Christianity and goes on a mission from god to spread the message of love and peace.

Better known as Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter, Tom Felton is Lucius, an ambitious aide sent to hunt Clavius.

Everyone involved should say three Hail Mary’s as penance.


Exodus: Gods and Kings

Director: Ridley Scott (2014)

Striding into cinemas on a mission from God, Exodus is a handsome and monumental retelling of the Moses bible story.

Ridley Scott combines typically impressive design with spectacular action and even makes a couple of successful stabs at humour.

But he fails to broaden our understanding of events . Remaining true to the spirit of the story he fails to put an interesting spin on it. There is, of course, the parting of the Red Sea and the carving of the Ten Commandments.

Surprisingly for the director who gave cinema Ellen Ripley, G.I. Jane and Thelma and Louise, Scott provides no memorable female characters.

Although Indira Varma as a High Priestess makes an impression, Sigourney Weaver appears briefly and to no great effect as as Ramses’ mother Tuya. Love interest Zipporah (Maria Valverde) is forgettable. Even Scott’s recent and deservedly maligned Prometheus gave us two entertaining female roles.

In a nothing role Aaron Paul continues to cash in on his Breaking Bad kudos – but the likeable actor needs to start banking decent roles soon.

Egyptian general Moses (Christian Bale) is troubled when told he is the son of a Hebrew slave. His foster brother King Ramses II (Joel Edgerton) sees him as a threat and casts him into the wilderness

God appears to Moses in the controversial guise of a haughty and petulant youth – a confident and spine-tingling performance by Isaac Andrews.

He tells Moses to return to Egypt and free the chosen people but the prince-turned-prophet takes his time about it. So in the movie’s stand-out sequence, God lets loose a terrifying series of plagues including crocodiles, frogs, boils, flies and locusts.

All the children of Egypt are killed, including Ramses’ own son, and he orders the Hebrews to flee. But he chases them and they end up trapped between the sea and his bloodthirsty army.

Bale, with his usual intensity, successfully turns from sceptical young warrior to devout old leader – though his wildly changing circumstances barely phase him.

He’s not even surprised when he is unexpectedly introduced to his adult brother Aaron (Andrew Tarbet) for the first time.