He is Risen indeed

Risen

Opens Feb 18  Rated M

After ham-fisted blockbusters that turned Noah and Moses into nutters – and the call of God and his saving power into delirium and delusion – it is a profound relief to see a film that takes the Bible, and Jesus, seriously.

We see a risen Lord. We see changed lives. We see miracles that aren’t explained away by a bump to the head. Thank God.

Apart from choosing a solid central cast the makers of Risen have done two very smart things; first, the story is told from the perspective of an outsider, a Roman tribune named Clavius (Joseph Fiennes); and second, the kick-off point for the action is the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. The real focus is on what happens after the resurrection, not before it.

Those familiar with the somewhat melodramatic 1950s Richard Burton film The Robe need not be concerned that Risen will take the same route.

Yes, it also tells its story through an unbelieving Roman tribune who is present at the crucifixion, and yes, it does change the course of his life. However, there is no hackneyed love story and no “magic” robe that does weird things to those who touch it, although the (apparently 14th century) Shroud of Turin does get a look-in, presumably for its visual appeal.

The timeline for the story is also much shorter. Whereas The Robe ranged over a number of years, and had its main character setting off on a missionary journey with the Apostle Peter, the focus of Risen is from the crucifixion to the ascension. 

Clavius is a battle-hardened leader with a rising reputation, and has become the go-to man for Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth), who puts him in charge of ensuring the crucified Jesus is dead, then buried and guarded so his disciples can’t claim resurrection.

When Sunday arrives, the seals on the tomb have burst and the guards have rushed to the High Priest for protection, Pilate gives Clavius and his assistant Lucius (Tom Felton) the task of finding out what really happened, retrieving Jesus’ body and restoring order before the emperor visits Jerusalem.

Naturally, Clavius’s inquiries immediately take an unexpected turn. The more he speaks to those close to Jesus the more perplexed he becomes – until he bursts into a room to make an arrest and gets more than he bargained for.

Some tweaks have been given to the late chapters of the gospel narrative so Clavius can be part of the experience, and there are a few directorial decisions that I shrugged my shoulders over (a blue-eyed, overly jolly Bartholomew being one of them), but these are small issues. 

After all, the film actually tells the biblical story of the resurrection with all its pain, doubt, wonder and joy. Some scenes are violent and would be frightening to younger children (particularly an early battle scene and some images around the crucifixion), but this is our faith, properly presented on the big screen for the first time in goodness knows how long. 

Go, watch and rejoice. And take as many non-Christian inquirers as you can, because it’s the perfect entrée to a gospel conversation.

Those hands were pierced for us.