Melbourne, February 17th, 2016 (Peter Malone). There is an unusual film phenomena at the opening of 2016. Two films, Scripture-based, but imaginative interpretations of gospel events.

Since 2000, have been many religious films, success attributed to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. There have been quite a number of Jesus films: The Miracle Maker, Mary mother of Jesus, Jesus, The Gospel of John, the South African Son Of Man. It seems that there is an appetite in a wide range of audiences for Biblical films (more recently Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings).The two films further 2016 are The Young Messiah, a film about Jesus at the age of seven, and Risen, a perspective on the death and resurrection of Jesus from the point of view of a Roman Tribune. This is the kind of story that was developed in the 1953 film, The Robe.

In an age where the title might suggest zombies in the living dead, is interesting to see that the title is for the risen Jesus. This is a worthy film, in some ways a Roman spectacle but, ultimately, a film about faith.

Technically, the film is very well made, using Morocco settings, re-creation of Jerusalem, Pilate’s residence, Calvary, the disciples in the upper room, as well as the Judean desert, the sea of Galilee and the mountains. The director is Kevin Reynolds who, in the past, directed such blockbusters as Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves and Waterworld. The film is technically well-crafted.

But, for many viewers, the key question is: how is the resurrection of Jesus treated? Basically, the answer is with reverence and some awe.

The audience is giving the setting of troubles in Judaea at the time of Jesus. There is an opening battle sequence, quite vivid in its action, where the Roman soldiers are confronting the Zealots, the Romans being bombarded by heavy rocks but capitalising on military strategies, using their shields for protection and advancing on the Zealots, defeating them and taking Barabbas. The commander is Claviuis, played very seriously by Joseph Fiennes.

Then we are given the background of Pilate, his concern about beating the Zealots, his remarking to Clavius that he has had trouble, allowing the chief priests to take a prisoner, Yeshua, and crucifying him. Pilate has been troubled and thinks that Yeshua has had a death wish, wanting to sacrifice himself. Pilate and then sends Clavius to Calvary to oversee the breaking of the legs of the thieves and of Yeshua but he authorises the piercing of the issue aside with a lance, despite the Centurion’s professing faith in Yeshua. Mary and the others are glimpsed at the foot of the cross.

This means that the Gospel events are being looked at from the point of view of the Romans. This is particularly the case when Joseph of Arimathea brings a message from Pilate with permission to take the body of Jesus, Clavius inspecting the tomb before the huge stone is rolled over it and Roman seals put on the stone. (The other bodies are seen being thrown into lime pits.)

The film makes much of the incompetent soldiers, drinking on guard, wanting a night off, experiencing something strange and then reporting back to Caiaphas with the invention of the story of the stealing of Jesus’ body. Pilate is insistent to Clavius (and Caiaphas even more insistent) that the body be found and any rumours of Yeshua Risen are quashed.

Which means that the audience goes behind the familiar scenes, with Clavius and his assistant searching for all the recently buried bodies (a desecration that the people abhor) and then interviewing various disciples of Yeshua, including a cheery Bartholomew, an old blind lady, and a very serious Mary Magdalene, identified professionally by a number of the soldiers.

But, one of those interviewed is prepared, Judas-like, to betray the disciples and leads the Romans to the upper room, Clavius entering at the time of Thomas’s encounter with Yeshua and astonished at seeing him.

From this point on, the film changes gear, Clavius rather overwhelmed by what seemed impossible, his leaving his post, travelling north and encountering Peter and the other apostles, sharing their experience with them at the Lake of Galilee, even talking to Yeshua about his search for meaning, and then an ascension scene, not a levitation, but Yeshua speaking the familiar words and walking into the sunrise.

By this stage, the focus is on faith, the encounter with Yeshua and the consequences.

As has been said, the film is well crafted technically, is written with serious intent, performed seriously, with Peter Firth as Pilate and a very sympathetic Cliff Curtis (the New Zealand Maori actor) as Yeshua.

The film will be sympathetic received by believing audiences, by Christians of all denominations, and with some interest in interpreting the Gospels from the Roman perspective by those who do not share faith.