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Review and Outline of "The Passion"

--the 2008 BBC/HBO mini series



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Review by Neil MacQueen

The Passion (BBC, HBO, 2008)

In short, I really like this movie. I had the opportunity to watch it again three times while making the attached outline, and each time I appreciated it more. It's full of scripture and heart. The portrayal of Jesus is warm and loving, but also gritty and passionate. There are some unique portrayals not seen in Jesus films before, such as Joseph of Arimathea and his defense of Jesus, and you almost feel sympathetic to Caiaphas' plight. The interplay between the disciples and Jesus really gives you a sense of their love for Jesus and their confusion as they try to figure out who he is, and what's going to happen next.

Parts of the movie are definitely good as excerpts for children. The Palm Sunday, Last Supper, Gethsemane, and Resurrection scenes, for example. There is some PG content (robbers/murderers), and some of Caiaphas' discussions could be skipped for kids. In its entirety, this is a good movie for pre-teens, youth, and adults.


“The Passion” is a four-part BBC/HBO miniseries produced in 2008. Little known in the U.S. it is actually quite good, and refreshingly different than other attempts at capturing Jesus on film. It presents the story of Christ’s last week with insight, appropriate reverence, and some fresh takes on familiar scenes, characters, and dialog. Particularly attractive is the realistic depiction of the scenes and people of that day. This is no white-robed, well-groomed, aloof Jesus. This is Jesus with feelings, pain, sadness, resolve, and un-blow-dried hair. Jesus’ love for God and the common people are central to this portrayal.

The Temple scenes are appropriately chaotic and convey the highly charged atmosphere of Jerusalem at Passover. Jesus causes a stir by his arrival. Pilate is in town worried about unrest, and anxious to show that Rome is boss. Caiaphas is portrayed fairly sympathetically politician trying to keep the peace under Roman occupation at all costs. Judas has a major role, and is often seen speaking personally with Jesus. The Disciples are troubled by the direction things seem to be going. Joseph of Arimathea has a major role in the latter parts. There's a moving scene before Good Friday where Jesus and his disciples come across the Romans crucifying others that helps us understand what Jesus knew was coming. In the Last Supper and Gethsemane scenes, Jesus speaks from the heart. They are some of the best I’ve seen on film. The Crucifixion has real passion without too much gore. The Road to Emmaus scene is especially good.   The ending of the movie features Jesus speaking to Peter then disappearing into the crowd. (It is quite powerful once you ponder it. See my note about that in the guide).

Jesus is portrayed by British actor Joseph Mawle who gives Jesus a spiritual and personal intensity. His manner of speaking is modern, not Elizabethan. Unlike a lot of Jesus movies, in this one, Jesus doesn't seem to be above the crowd or untouchable. I Mawle's Jesus engaging and personable, not distant. His dialog is filled with scripture worded in a natural manner that's recognizable and heartfelt, rather than preachy. The movie makes an interesting choice that’s sure to create discussion when it momentarily uses a different actor to portray Jesus in the two scenes where Jesus isn't recognized after the resurrection –Mary Magdalene at the Tomb, Emmaus Road. 

Part 1 of The Passion (BBC) does a good job of introducing all the major characters, especially those who would oppose Jesus. We see and hear a lot from Caiaphas as he and his underlings assess and then try to deal with the arrival of Jesus. It really helps us understand the dangerous situation Jesus was riding into that Palm Sunday. This first part also does a good job of explaining Jesus' opposition to the Temple-centered, sacrificial system he was trying to reform. The drama and danger ramp up with each chapter.

PG violence makes this a movie for teens and adults. Excerpt/skip certain scenes for kids. (Use the Outline to decide what you want to show and preview it.) The cross scene is not overly gory, but as with all cross scenes, it may be too graphic for young children. The violence in the movie is seen mostly in the side-stories about the two robbers crucified with Jesus. While the main actors are decidedly British looking and sounding –as you would expect from a British mini-series, and Jesus’ words are not always direct quotes from scripture, these are minor issues that I refuse to let get in the way of being inspired.

 The DVD is available on Amazon.

It is only sold in the U.K "PAL" format, meaning, it won’t play on SOME older North American (NTSC coded) DVD players. It will only play on DVD players that are both NTSC and PAL compatible, so make sure you test your classroom equipment. It played fine on my newer Philips DVD player. It will also play on a typical computer’s DVD player because most computer DVD players are both NTSC and PAL compatible.  So if you don't have an updated DVD player, do this: most modern laptops with an HDMI plug can funnel the movie over an HDMI cable to a larger TV or LCD projector for group viewing.

Review  and Outline by Neil MacQueen for

View or Download the Outline (PDF)


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