Review: Easter story retold without preaching

The crucifixion of Jesus in Risen
The crucifixion of Jesus in Risen

Matt Adcock reviews Biblical film Risen (12A)

Welcome to one of the biggest and most speculated about events in history. It’s 33 AD - a key date for the Biblical narrative as it was when Jesus/Yeshua (played here with huge amounts of charisma by Cliff ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ Curtis) was crucified and buried. Yes, Risen is the latest Bible-em-up reworking of the resurrection, overlapping and following on from the events in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ.

The difference this time is that director and co-writer Kevin ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ Reynolds retells the events through the eyes of a non-believing Roman centurion named Clavius (Joseph ‘Shakespeare In Love’ Fiennes).

As religious fervour threatens to ignite civil unrest across Judea in the wake of the disappearance of Jesus’s body, the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate (Peter ‘Spooks’ Firth), orders an inquiry into what exactly happened. The religious leaders and Pharisees claim the body had been stolen by Christ’s followers, the soldiers tasked with guarding the tomb go into hiding fearing for their lives and the rumours

of a resurrection start to spread.

Risen (although possibly the biggest spoiler title for a movie ever) starts off effectively setting the scene with Clavius and his men caught up in a bloody skirmish with Jewish renegades. As the events of the first Easter weekend unfold, turmoil and uncertainty run rampant through the city and it’s well portrayed – and avoids falling into the ‘Life of Brian’ style farce.

Fiennes is good as the hard-bitten Clavius and his journey is compelling as he gets to lead, along with his ambitious aide Lucius (Tom ‘Harry Potter’ Felton), the manhunt for Yeshua’s body.

As a Christian who reviews films, I’m often massively let down by the attempts to bring scripture or overtly ‘pro-faith’ stories to the medium of film. I really don’t want to be ‘preached at’ any more than the next cinema goer.

The fact that Risen actually works as a historical thriller for much of its running time before eventually getting a bit carried away with the ‘it must be true’ narrative is to the credit of the filmmakers. It’s kind of like an ancient times alternative to a Dan Brown novel.

But seeing as the ‘did Jesus rise from the dead?’ question is one that continues to be asked 2,000 years later, Risen is a thought-provoking option for cinema audiences to mull over this Easter.

* Tweet Matt @Cleric20