Saturday, March 08, 2008

The BBC and The Passion

The BBC plans to broadcast a major new production of The Passion this year, throughout Holy Week, at peak time on BBC1.

In Thinking Faith, Ged Clapson, after seeing a preview, assesses whether it lives up to expectations.

"So, has the BBC succeeded?

The simple answer, after viewing episode one (scheduled for transmission on Palm Sunday) is: I’m still not sure.

And my reason for sitting on the fence on this issue is not because The Passion is bad or offensive or controversial: it is definitely none of those things. But my fear is: it simply assumes a greater knowledge of Christianity, of Christ and of the events of Holy Week than the ‘average audience’ (whatever that is) actually has.

I well remember one of the BBC’s Religious Correspondents whose wife gave birth to a baby at Easter recounting how he had visited the Maternity Ward at his wife’s hospital and found the new mothers there poring over the New Testament looking for some reference to the Easter bunny!

Similarly, I fear that the majority of Britons genuinely expect, when reading the story of Jesus’ birth, to find the role of the ox and the ass referred to. The Passion, critically, assumes a knowledge of the Gospels that may not actually exist among the BBC’s Holy Week viewers.

I found myself, as a Christian, as a believer, as the Jesuits’ Communications Officer, and as someone who has worked as a Programme Consultant for the BBC on various productions, looking forward with eager anticipation to episode two. But I could not help wondering whether the ‘average’ member of BBC1’s audience would too.

All that is a very great shame, because it was obvious from what I viewed last night that the BBC has gone out of it way to produce a series of programmes that are – most definitely – NOT anti-Christian, or offensive, or sensational.

The Passion clearly is an adult drama, the product of a large budget, of thoughtful, mature research, of an authentic, sympathetic process.

And most of all, it has succeeded in one of its principal objectives: to set the events in the historical, political and religious context in which they occurred. This is something that truly stands out as one of the major achievements of The Passion. "