Agghhhh … I had so much hope for this one having just recently seen director Penny Woolcock’s wonderful Mischief Night. And given the premise – basically a modern take on, oh go on, guess which Bible story? – I kinda wondered why it hadn’t so much as touched the big screen before showing on television. I saw the trailer last week and it couldn’t have got me more excited. I kinda came in expecting something between ITV Drama’s “The Second Coming” and BBC Three’s “Manchester Passion” from a few years back. Those seem like high expectations to me, ‘cos I loved those two productions so much; but I get the feeling I’m kind of alone on that, so, I don’t know, in the broad scheme of things I don’t think I was being too optimistic, was I?
The problem here is that it’s at once too literal and liberal a translation. The characters all bear the same names they have in the biblical text, for example; but get to the real iconic moments, the burning bush, the plagues, the parting of the red sea? And you couldn’t ask for more pathetically small-minded modernisations. You get a kinda-sorta Wicker Man and a voice in Moses’ head (and he’s not alone when he hears it, completely stripping away a whole level of profundity), red poisonous algae in the sea and internet viruses … you get kids, I kid you not, dancing “ring a ring ‘o roses” just so someone can reel off the story of where that song comes from one more time … and the parting of the red sea? What can I say except what a frickin’ stupid ending.
By the end of the movie, Moses and his “modern day Jews” have become little short of terrorists which – and forgive me if I’m wrong, I’m not exactly a Bible-basher – kinda misses the point of the original story. “God told me to do it,” Moses tells Zipporah after one atrocity. I’m sorry, but didn’t God originally do all his own handiwork, only to have it signaled by Moses? I don’t remember any of Moses’ people going around Egypt and personally slaughtering babies, put it that way … It just really comes over as a slightly dangerous, not to mention tactless, message to me.
In short, there’s no wonder why it came so fast to the small screen. And I say this having actually looked forward to it because I loved Woolcock’s treatment of “the little people” in Mischief Night and was interested in how that would come over in this. But when you’re dealing with this story, it doesn’t matter where you base it … you’ve got to have the epic moments, and they’ve got to be epic, especially if you set yourself up with a sprawling 2.35:1 frame.
I still wanna give this production kudos for trying – the concept at least still intrigues me – but I’m awestruck by how misguidedly executed it turned out to be.