Easter is the central point of the Christian calendar and religious and secular broadcasters often put on Jesus films at this time. Most commonly these include Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the 1977 TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth with Robert Powell starring as Jesus, or one of the many versions of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar.
But there are many different Jesus films that might be watched and engaged with this Easter. Below I’ve highlighted four that you might not have heard of or watched, as well as my quick guide for thinking about Jesus films while you watch them. (Thinking about Jesus Films (PDF))
For more definitive lists of Jesus films see:
- Portrayals of Jesus in film
- Biographical films about Jesus
- Jesus films – updating media (Greenflame)
The Gospel of Us (2012)
A retelling of the Jesus story set in a contemporary Welsh town and featuring Michael Sheen as The Teacher. Here the oppressive authorities are represented by the company ICU, who plan to put a motorway through the town. The film, directed by Dave McKean, was based on a three-day Passion play version of Owen Sheers novel of the same name put on by Sheen and performed in his home town of Port Talbort. The film is notable for the its inclusion of the townspeople as unscripted extras, as well as performances by The Manic Street Preachers and Paul Potts.
Set post Jesus’ resurrection, this is the story of a Roman tribune, played by Joseph Fiennes, who is tasked with tracking down Jesus’ body so as to defuse potential political unrest. Along the way he encounters various of Jesus’ disciples and others who knew or who have seen the risen Christ, before his own personal encounters and the implications of those on his faith and loyalty to Rome.
Son of Man (2006)
An alternate retelling of Jesus’ death and resurrection set in contemporary South Africa. The biblical locations and people are reset within the context of a southern Africa nation in the midst of civil war, with parallels drawn between the violence and poverty in the biblical settings and those in South Africa. Andile Kosi plays Jesus, who demands that his followers reject war and follow a life of peace instead.
Color of the Cross (2006)
A Haitian/US production which retells the Jesus story leading up to the his crucifixion. The film is one of the few that cast Jesus as non-white and stresses that his death was racially motivated. This film didn’t receive much success critically or in the box office, but is an interesting attempt to put a different spin on the gospel story highlighting a different side of oppression and Jesus’ solidarity with those being marginalised.
A second film, Color of the Cross 2: The Resurrection, was released in 2008.