TV UK, 12 April

'"Except for signs and wonders ye will not believe", Jesus once complained. The BBC's history department seems similarly resigned to the need for not-so-cheap tricks.'

Dolan Cummings

Topics Politics

I’ve always felt that Christ’s resurrection was dramatically unnecessary. I mean, all the real drama is in the crucifixion: the terrifying surrender to an incomprehensible fate; the sense of duty tempered by uncertainty; the sheer horrible passion of it. The resurrection is a bit daft by comparison. I mean, BOING! ‘I’m back!’. Please.

Still, the kids like their resurrections, and it would have been mean to miss it out of The Miracle Maker (BBC1, Good Friday). This is very much a children’s production, and not just because it’s an animation. The story is told from the perspective of a little girl who is spellbound by the charismatic Jesus. Actually the whole ‘suffer unto me the little children’ aspect of Christ’s appeal is very interesting.

The Miracle Maker brings this out by making the girl’s father a Pharisee, and therefore part of the establishment that Jesus is challenging. This, and the emphasis on miracles, mean that the story is as much about the conflict between credulous youth and sceptical authority as anything else. One is reminded of the scene in ET when Elliot tells his little sister that the alien can only be seen by little children. As Drew Barrymore put it, ‘Gimme a break’.

To its credit though, The Miracle Maker at least explores an idea or two, and it is primarily for kids. Ideas are conspicuously absent from The Son of God, the BBC’s ‘groundbreaking’ documentary which reaches its climax on Easter Sunday.

‘Except for signs and wonders ye will not believe’, Jesus once complained. The BBC’s history department seems similarly resigned to the need for not-so-cheap tricks. Ancient cities are brought to life by the wonders of computer graphics as Jeremy Bowen trundles around the Holy Land in a jeep searching for evidence to support the scriptures.

Speaking about the programme, Laurence Rees, the BBC’s creative director of history programmes, told The Sunday Times (1) that The Nazis: a Warning from History had taught him there was a market for ideas on TV, and that more intellectual content might actually attract a bigger audience. ‘That’s something I had never thought of before.’ Never thought of?! Just how do you get to be a creative director of history programmes at the BBC these days?

In fact, The Son of God is not overburdened with intellectual content, much less spiritual insight. The widely publicised attempt to reconstruct the face of Christ might interest forensic science boffins, but it has precious little to do with history or with Christianity. Is that the most profound question they could think of: what did Jesus look like? I can’t help feeling that Christ would be turning in his grave if he hadn’t been so rudely removed from it.

The final episode on Easter Sunday (BBC1 at 9.10pm) also re-examines the relationship between Christ and Judas Iscariot. An interesting issue, to be sure: so how is it handled here? There is some speculation that betray could be a mistranslation of hand over, ‘which could explain why Jesus didn’t run away’. Ah, the question that has flummoxed biblical scholars for two millennia: why didn’t Jesus run away?

Watching The Son of God, one is reminded how much interesting stuff there is in the Christian tradition, and frustrated that it is not explored here. If you like fairytales and computer graphics, you’d do better to stick with The Miracle Maker. Otherwise, you’ll just have to read the book.

Speaking of things that rise from the dead….All right; it can wait. More about Buffy the Vampire Slayer next week.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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(1) The Sunday Times, 1 April 2001

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Topics Politics


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