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Jane Eyre




Roger Young, director/ Jeremy Sisto is Jesus

Billy writes:

Saw this film some years ago, and loved it. I don’t think I wrote any notes at the time.

Saw the film again today, April 13th, 2021, and enjoyed it as much, if not more, as before. This film is excellent in several ways. 


The script is surprisingly good; many quality moments, turns, combination etc. I would love to get hold of the script, and study it in detail. Scriptwriter is Souzette Coulture. In this film the gospels have been harmonized. She takes liberties; but I think it totally works.

The film opens with the arrival of Pilate in the area, as he makes several visits, to Herod Antipas, the Jewish King, and to Cajaphas, the temple High Priest. A useful way of setting the scene, and setting-up the conflicts that are around the corner. The character Livio by G.W. Bailey works well, even while it is quite an artistic license.  

Jesus meets Barabbas just when he is about to kill a Roman soldier; Jesus tries to stop Barabbas, but he continues his violence. Fascinating conversation.

What a fabulous sequence to get closer to the issues-at-hand, and to give an early introduction to Barabbas, as well as to what Jesus has come to achieve. 


Here & there the script possibly crosses certain lines; on occasion this film moves away just a touch from the Biblical account, or it gets slightly too humorous. 

The scenes with the ‘devil’ (Jeroen Krabbe + Manuela Ruggeri) are fascinating and excellent (from an ‘issues’ PoV), even though some of the images are almost corny (could have been better produced). Still, the vision behind this work is strong and daring. We, the viewer, gain important insight through this style of writing. 

The script writer has taken the liberty to write scenes that are not in scripture, or make certain combinations (different scripture passages put into one scene); the result is that we, the viewer, get a better understanding of what is happening to Jesus, and around him. We get some insight into His own awakening, as it were, to fully become the son-of-man/ son-of-god. 


The humor in this film is very useful; it allows the viewer to connect, over and over again, with what’s otherwise difficult subject matter. No doubt there will be plenty of critics expressing their disagreement, perhaps even their shock-horror: how dare the script writer take such liberties? 

Yes, there are those who choose the ‘law’ rather than the ‘spirit’. They insist we cannot move beyond the written scripture text (as if it was written like a movie script - which is not the case). 


Others, I’m glad to report, have found freedom-in-the-spirit and follow the spirit-of-the-story. Souzette Coulture is such a person. Her script is full of life, full of meaning, and of insight into the subject matter, as well as the portrayal of all the unique characters in the story.

Fascinating to see, at the beginning of the film, how in his friendship with Mary & Martha and Lazarus, Jesus has to make a choice, to stay single, ‘because his life is not his won’. This sequence is well written and acted; it instantly sets the scene for what’s to come. Quality drama, in my book.

The casting is excellent, including Jeremy Sisto in the part of Jesus. Debra Messing and Jaqueline Bisset are both excellent, as Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of Jesus. Gary Oldman is very effective as Pontius Pilate. The part of Livio is like a theater-jester, making jokes and ‘being an informer’- well portrayed by G.W. Bailey. This ‘side-character’ is an interesting and useful ‘device’ to bring some humor into the story, as well as perspective. Bailey does an excellent job here. 

The roles of the disciples are well cast. Twelve different characters clearly stand out from each other. Actors from several countries are in this movie; Italy, South Africa, England, Germany, USA, Scotland, Switzerland, the Netherlands.


The film has been produced in 2 parts; this works well. Excellent sets and set-dressing. Impressive music, traditional, classically oriented. 

Well directed by Roger Young who was given an excellent script, great cast, wonderful locations & sets. 

Jesus of Montreal

Jesus of Nazareth

Billy Angel writes: (Jan. 4, 2022)

This unique film came out some 40 years ago; it is still fresh and powerfully lodged in my memory.

I’m planning to watch this 6 hour TV movie again, one of these days. Keen to see how it communicates this time around.

I remember it well, I was living in London when this film came out. I was already a Zeffirelli fan though his brilliant movies: Taming of the Shrew, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and the very romantic Romeo & Juliet with the very young Olivia Hussey (if I’m correct).

I saw those two Zeffirelli film as a teenager (I made tips to Amsterdam to see these movies in the cinema), and as a result, I fell in love with Shakespeare, with Zeffirelli, and (last, but not least) with Olivia Hussey.

I had moved to London when ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ was released on TV and that’s how I saw the movie: on TV (never saw it in the cinema). I remember the writing, the script of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ being EXCELLENT. It opened the teachings of Jesus up beautifully; it made all the drama very accessible. The cast is obviously very impressive, and Zeffirelli knows well how to create amazing (moving) images, like they are classical paintings.

Two Gospel films that had been made in those days (late 70s, early 80s) had flopped financially (Greatest Story Ever Told/ King of Kings), and so this project was given a new approach, namely: IT WAS MADE FOR TELEVISION, something very unusual at that time. It should reach a wider audience than simply a church-audience. And indeed, this 6-hour film succeeded in reaching a very large audience, both Christin & non-Christian.

Films in those days were always for the cinema. Television was an entirely different medium, but this film broke that mould! And because it was made for television there was no problem to making it a 6 hour movie (to be televised in 4 parts).  These 6 hours gave the writers ample opportunity to tell the whole (gospel) story, not just a tight selection of material from the gospels (as is often the case with gospel-films).

This, together with other ‘interesting’ choices made this (very) long film stand out (from other gospel films), and be a tremendous recourse for years to come. (Surprisingly perhaps, even this 6-hour film leaves out lots of gospel passages.)


Zeffirelli was asked to do this movie, and initially he didn’t really want to. Even the pope (who-ever was pope at that time) was involved in making sure the job would go to Zeffirelli, and that the famous film maker would accept the task.

Indeed Zeffirelli was the right man to make a quality movie, with a unique blend of ART imagery, classical acting, a strong Jewish influence in the script (in the drama), a good dramatic flow to the action even though the whole movie is rather slow. Yet, even the slowness of the film was (mostly) intentional (I believe), because it emphasizes the meditative, the spiritual dimension of the story and it sets Jesus apart from the business of life. Jesus is not in a hurry, like every-one else; his presence brings ‘calm’ and ‘refection’.  As mentioned earlier, this film reached a very large audience, soon after being released, and also for many years following, even to this day! What an achievement.

Zeffirelli’s ’Shakespeare’ films were cast mostly with English actors, while Zeffirelli brought his Italian cultural qualities  to these 2 movies, doing the filming in Italy; an interesting blend, even while the 2 films ‘feel’ like British made movies. Translating Shakespeare into Italian would not have worked, obviously. So here is an Italian film-director giving Shakespeare, in the hands of a British cast, a strong and unique Italian flavor. It worked brilliantly, and the movies were a great financial success around the world. This clearly set the stage for a new kind of Jesus movie to be made by Zeffirelli; the Pope was right: Zeffirelli was THE MAN!


Pasolini made his Jesus film in Italy (after spending much time exploring the Holy Land for locations); Zeffirelli decided to go to North Africa. He & the producer, the man who was controlling the money, decided that the cast would consist of UK actors (first of all) AND American actors as well as Italian actors. Circumstances made that also North African actors got involved (the extra’s), even in speaking parts (local actors who don’t speak English). Lots of Post Production work was done in the sound studio where the main cast dubbed their own performances, and the smaller parts were dubbed by voice artists etc. etc.

Why am I bringing this up? You might wonder why Zeffirelli used this white cast that originates such a long way away from the Middle East.


Why not bring a cast together from Israel itself and surrounding countries possibly?

The obvious answer is of course MONEY. The film had to have famous (in the west) talent to make sure the film would score well with Western audiences (in the USA and Europe). And it did!

IN the development of film, the idea of actually using LOCAL actors for a gospel film filmed in North Africa, even for the main parts including the tittle-role, was not in the thinking as yet. And to Zeffirelli’s credit, one of the reasons this film is excellent, is the outstanding cast! Remarkable talent came together for this film. For this reason alone Jesus of Nazareth is a powerful statement of it’s time, a cultural classic, a piece of history, a monumental achievement! 


Since those days, other gospel films have been made, many of them STILL using that same (kind of) white cast from the west, but some of them using a much more local cast, people from the region. That’s an important step in the right direction, in my opinion, if you want to get closer to the TRUE STORY. Some films have worked with a mixed cast: half UK and half local, with varying results (not always good). There are a few gospel films that feature an entire LOCAL (North African) cast!

Robert Powell as Jesus looked great, if this kind of imagery appeals to you. His acting was excellent, I think, and so in some ways, he was/ is a brilliant Jesus in this impressive production. And yet, Robert Powell was, and still is, so very English, and also SO VERY ISOLATED.


Jesus was not English and not isolated. Of course Jesus is everything; he inhabits all races, all nationalities etc. etc. But Robert Powell certainly does not inhabit other races or nationalities, other than anglo-saxen English. The way he speaks and moves (or sits/ stands still) makes him look like a painting that has trouble coming alive…; this slim figure with these hollow eyes that never blink… The way Powell presents Jesus to us does not invite us to ‘come closer’, to become endeared to him. Having said that, portraying Jesus (in a feature film) is an impossibility, per definition.

Wikipedia tells me that the producers, at the time, looked for an actor through whom an IMAGE of Jesus could be made (manicured/ manufactured) of the ‘image of Jesus’ (Head of Christ) as painted by USA artist Warner Sallman. This image is so very blond and religious; it fits right in with the American 50s church culture, while it is so totally at odds with the middle eastern culture. As a result of this (weird) focus, Robert Powell was ‘found’ and invited to do the part. Don’t get me wrong, Powell is an excellent actor and he gave this work his very best. Stranger things have happened… It is what it is. 

The result is a FILM that TEACHES and TOUCHES (the heart) at times, but does not necessarily INSPIRE. (Perhaps the film did inspire other film makers to go back to the gospel story and make other gospel films… ) 

‘Jesus of Nazareth’ in the hands of Zeffirelli became like his no. 3 Shakespeare film, and that’s not so bad. I am grateful that this film was made. It is still one of my favorite gospel films. The film is time-less, in a way; the music however, is very dated and makes watching the movie harder. Imagine if someone were to do a fresh edit of this (same) movie, with an up-to-date music track. This could be very effective!


(I suppose, it would take an artists who is absolutely PASSIONATE about ‘telling the gospel story’ to get to the level of INSPIRATION. This artist would have to be someone who is at home with BEING INSPIRED almost to the point of HEARING FROM GOD. After all, the gospel story is God’s story. He came (down) to bring us the GOOD NEWS, to confront the POWERS OF DARKNESS, and to break hell’s grip on man-kind. This ‘good news’ first came to Abraham when God spoke to him, and Abraham (called Abram at that time) was willing to listen and believe. BLESSING was the THEME. The next BIG MOVE OF GOD began when HE spoke to MOSES at the burning bush, and Moses (after some hesitation) responded to the call and learned to take God at His word. LIBERATION was the THEME.

When Jesus arrived, God Himself walked the dirt-roads of this world. God had already WALKED with Adam & Eve, and with Abraham, FAUGHT with JACOB, and STOOD in the FLAMES with the friends of DANIEL. Those had all been brief miraculous visits. This time around God’s presence on earth came through miraculous conception and birth. He was to  actually grow-up on a planet that He had flung into space a cosmic moment earlier. In terms of human life years he was to stay for half a life-time, even while his actual work was done in just 3 years. But his departure coincided with the arrival of His equal, the Holy Spirit, which is really HIS PRESENCE on earth, spreading like wild-fire.

The THEME is THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.  It will take a GENIUS to tell that whole story well.)


This film stands as a MONUMENT-IN-TIME, for the 80s, and it is stil standing! Fascinating how a certain time-period (on this planet earth) the ARTS-at-a-certain-level, FILM-MAKING at a certain stage-of-development, produces a certain ARTISTIC EXPRESSION, A WORK-OF-ART, that speaks for that time period. And like visiting a MUSEUM to see a certain PAINTING that stands-for a certain time-period in similar fashion, you can pull out this FILM from the VAULT and RE-VISIT. It takes you back not only to how you remember seeing this film (for the very first time), but also the cultural fabric of that time-period, what was in-vogue, how we lived etc. etc.


Recently Stephen Spielberg released ‘West Side Story’ the RE-MAKE. Reviews are raving about the quality and how Spielberg has ‘honored’ the original. What if Spielberg did a remake of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’? What would that look like?

Pondering over this question, I’m almost tempted to abandon my ‘fresh-approach/ brand-new concept’ ideas, and go the ‘natural’ route with this kind of remake. We could write into the script some extra layers (Old Testament moments & characters), especially linked to the appearance of ANGELS and moments where the KINGDOM-OF-HEAVEN clearly breaks into this world (healings/ miracles/ Jesus in the desert/ Jesus speaking to The Father/ Jesus calming the storm, walking on water/ resurrection/ ascension/ Holy Spirit Outbreak (Pentecost)).


The other way of looking at this lengthy and complicated story (the Gospel & Acts) done through FILM, is to ask the question: WHAT WOULD BAZ LUHRMAN DO WITH IT? His films ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’ have wonderful theatrical elements in the story-telling, as in: links to the actual THEATER (which was the main expression of DRAMA before FILM was invented). The THEATER allows for SYMBOLISM and thereby becomes TIME-LESS, and representative of ALL HUMANITY. THE GOSPEL STORY is set in a very specific time & place & moment-in-history. FILMING this story takes the production to North Africa instantly, and the film will be SET in Israel etc.

I long for another approach that frees us from all the pressure on ‘the period’. Yet, perhaps wisdom requires to think through this issue with great care. In film making, the specifics of the story are the gold-dust that you are after. The RURAL LIFE that ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ depicts is rough & ready, realistic and relatable to the whole world. All people around the world understand the struggle for survival (as you see the people of Israel in this movie, in this story, trying to make a living with fishing or agriculture, or simply through begging). So, in a way, this is a universal language: people trying to stay alive in spite of poverty and in spite of an aggressive Roman occupation and corrupt Jewish leaders.

Perhaps we should follow through on the Jacob’s Ladder approach and find a place where conditions are similar and film there (South Africa?/ somewhere in Greece?/ TunIsia? (North Africa).

As I’ve described elsewhere, after climbing a mountain (seeing all the relevant gospel & acts films of the last 100 years), I’m now embarking on DIGGING A TUNNEL, doing all the Biblical study, a vast amount of work. Where that tunnel will take me, I don’t know, and I’ll only know at the end of that chapter.

The other thing is that GOING-THE-NATURAL-ROUTE (a costume-drama film, set in Palestine in the early years) is NOT AN OPTION for now! That route will be used continuously by most film makers, but not by me at this time. I must take confidence in the work I did early 2021, cumulating in the ‘conference’ with my friend Hans’s board (in the Netherlands) in April of that year. While it's a huge challenge, going the route of approaching the story via the Theater, going the natural route will end-up excluding the very essence-of-the-story that is crucial to my calling.


Having watched all 6 hours of Jesus of Nazareth I’m deeply impressed at the power and the message of this film. Even while this film takes all the time in the world, it seems to me that the writers have actually simplified the gospel story to a straight line of clear and concise steps, the words Jesus speaks and the actions he under-takes, including being arrested and the passion events that follow. The simplicity helps in watching this film and receiving the message: Jesus really IS the son-of-God, who voluntarily and purposefully took-on ‘the cross’ as HE took upon himself the sins-of-the-world. Zeffirelli kept the filmic images fairly brief and simple; even while we have just watched the longest gospel film ever made, once we get to the passion there’s no lingering; every step is clear and quick.

Nice film making to join the women to the tomb, and to discover with them (and the soldiers) that the tomb is empty. Together with all the characters involved we are left wondering what has happened or what is happening. When Mary Magdalene enters the Upper Room where the disciples are waiting, and she tells them that she has ‘seen the Lord’, we wonder, together with the disciples, if she might have lost her senses (through the trauma and grief over the weekend). Great writing and good film-making, how (the infamous) doubting Thomas wants to know if there’s anyone present in that room who dares to think that the Lord IS ALIVE…

The camera pans across all the faces to end on the face of Peter; he is, only just, willing to BELIEVE that the Lord LIVES! Magdalene walks off angrily, kind of slamming the door behind her, but the door doesn’t shut; this looks -kind of- simplicity for what is to come. We are waiting for the Lord to appear; at the same time, when you watch a gospel film it is not a GIVEN that we will witness the resurrected Lord indeed.  But of course, Zeffirelli gives us what we crave, which is also what is written (in the gospel): a living Jesus: HE HAS RISEN INDEED. Jesus speaks to the disciples and at the end of the scene, the very end of the film, He looks straight into the camera and addresses me! Powerful!  (I think Peter also looked straight into the lens, just minutes earlier - quite a bold move on behalf of Zeffirelli.)


Someone wrote that JESUS OF NAZARETH has been the GOLD STANDARD (of Gospel films) ever since it came out (in the late 70s), and that nobody, not one gospel film, has surpassed this ‘standard’. Interesting! For me, just like we’ve been given 4 gospels, I think that authority of J OF N has been matched by a few other gospel films, even while those are completely different productions.

Those are: THE MIRACLE MAKER/ JESUS (with Jeremy Sisto in the lead role)/ THE GOSPEL OF JOHN (with Henry Cusick in the lead role)  

Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is very popular among evangelicals and catholics alike, but -in my view- the teaching (theology, if you like) in and through this film, is rather flawed. The fact that this film’s focus is the Passion story makes that the larger gospel-story is not communicated sufficiently, in my view. Beyond that, there are many problems with a range of elements in Gibson's film.


Even while these 4 films are my favorites in the genre, none of them have included PENTECOST in the story-telling. I believe that the arrival of the Holy Spirit (during Pentecost) is a CRUCIAL PART of the Gospel story; it’s the PAY-OFF!  Jesus’s DEATH (on the cross) is the PRICE-PAID for all of his followers to enter ETERNAL LIFE (The Kingdom of Heaven).  Jesus’s RESURRECTION is the VICTORY (over death), meaning that SATAN’S POWER-OVER-PEOPLE has now been BROKEN! But the GREATEST GIFT promised by Jesus, is still to come: the ARRIVAL of the HOLY SPIRIT.  


If the story of the Gospel and the story of the emergence of the Church has a connecting point, it is PENTECOST. This is where the gospel climaxes and where Acts begins, even though Pentecost is not described in any of the 4 gospels. But, to me, that’s beside-the-point. The gospels are not written as drama-scripts (or as a novel). They are eye-witness accounts about Jesus, and Jesus wasn’t there during Pentecost. I think if you were to ask any of the gospel writers now (say, you get to interview them in heaven), I believe they would agree that Pentecost is the PAY-OFF to the Gospel story, and this crucial event should therefor be included. PENTECOST is the climax and ending of story 1, as well as the beginning of story 2!

'A.D. the Bible Continues', project by Roma Downey & Mark Burnett, has attempted to present the whole story, through the gospel, Pentecost and the early years of the church (based in Jerusalem). But sadly the producers didn’t manage to cover the apostle Paul, or Peter as he travels (away fro Jerusalem). 

To my knowledge there’s no (TV) film production that has successfully portrayed the whole ongoing story, the gospel through Pentecost, and then on through all of Acts, supported and expanded by passages in the epistles.


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