Saturday, April 15, 2006


They probably shouldn't have tried it, but the Manchester Passion, last night's BBC THREE reworking of the last days of Jesus, came close to pulling it off. After all, even an atheist can see that they were working with a cracking storyline, and if you've got the plot right, it can take any degree of old nonesense being tossed at it.

The music was probably the lamest part of the whole affair - rather than getting a Lloyd-Webber/Rice set of new songs, the BBC reached back to the glory days of Billy Anfield and hammered, twisted and warped Madchester era banging choons to almost fit the story. When it worked, it was obvious (I Am The Resurrection, as Jesus reappears); when it didn't, it was awkward (Pilate and Christ duetting on Wonderwall). In effect, it was like a grand version of Bionic Santa and those other singles where small snatches of song lyric were taken out of context to give the impression of a conversation.

Having Denise Johnson as the Virgin Mary at least ensured there was someone on hand who could carry a tune - even Tim Booth (as Judas) gave the impression that he'd have been better off carrying a huge great cross - but since she was stuck up on a stage and lumbered with Angels, her presence seemed to be as a back-up in case things went wrong. She never got to interact with her son, she never even got to give a reaction. Nice to see that 2,000 of Christian tradition of keeping the women to the margins was upheld, then.

The joy of the programme came in the little touches - Tony Wilson skulking in the mise en scene, and earning a credit amongst the Biblical names as perhaps the only 20th century figure ever to appear "as himself" next to Jesus; the orange jumpsuit a not-too-blatant nod to what happens when Empires pretend they're fighting a religious war. It's not clear if Keith Allen (as Pilate) was meant to seem so confused at the closing moments; it would make some sort of sense - Pilate would have thought sending Christ to his death was the end of the affair, of course, but it might have just been Allen wasn't sure Jesus was ready for his cue yet.

Actually, Pilate has a copy of the Bible next to his washing bowl, so he should have known what was going to happen.

Perhaps the greatest disappointment was there was nothing here to stir the ire of the staunchest Christian; indeed, it was probably Smiths fans who had more to be upset about. An alternative Passion? Passion there may have been (although the guys who hauled the giant glowing cross through the city for little more purpose than a single impressive aerial shot may feel their passion was wasted); there was little alternative in it.

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