The BBC are to broadcast a new prime time series about the days before Jesus' crucifixion which it is suggested will attract audiences of ten million.
The series, which follows several other major programmes exploring the Christian faith, as well as regular 'God slots' on television and radio comes as some Christians continue to complain that Christianity is being sidelined in mainstream programming, or preference is given to other religions.
The Chair of the Churches’ Media Council has written to a hundred national church leaders urging them to prepare for the broadcast of BBC1’s series The Passion. In his letter Rev Dr Joel Edwards says “from time to time opportunities arise nationally that provide significant moments for the Christian faith to engage with our culture. One such opportunity will be the forthcoming BBC series The Passion.” He expects the series to make “a huge national impact” over the Easter season.
The series, which starts on Palm Sunday 16th March, will be scheduled in peak time on BBC1. It is likely, say observers, to attract audiences in excess of 10 million.
It tells the story of the last week of Jesus’ life, his trial and crucifixion.
The last episode, to be broadcast on Easter Sunday 23rd March, dramatises his post-resurrection appearances.
It has been made by award-winning drama producer Nigel Stafford-Clark, who was responsible for Bleak House and Warriors. The cast includes Cold Feet star James Nesbitt as Pilate and EastEnders actor Paul Nicholls as Judas Iscariot. The part of Jesus is played by the relatively unknown Joseph Mawle, who at 33 is the same age as Jesus during the events of the Passion.
A multi-denominational group convened by the Churches’ Media Council has also launched a website to provide resources and information about the series. The group is encouraging the Christian community to seize this “golden opportunity to contribute to a contemporary public discussion about Jesus.”
Guidelines on the site encourage the Christian community to welcome the retelling of the stories for a new generation, but to treat it as drama first rather than theology.
Andrew Graystone, Director of the Churches’ Media Council, was profoundly moved by early versions of the series. “This is an extremely vivid piece of drama. You feel you are right there, in amongst the Passover crowds, alongside the disciples as Jesus comes out with these simple but earth-shattering messages. And then of course, he’s taken away and makes the ultimate sacrifice, and like the disciples, you’re left to decide what you are going to do about it.”
A hundred Christian leaders will be invited to a preview screening of the series in February. Meanwhile a panel of speakers has been formed to contribute to national press, radio and TV discussions. The Passion website also has ideas to help local churches prepare for the series.
Andrew Graystone urged Christians to “cancel all leave” and prepare a welcome for the series, describing it as “a once-in-a-generation opportunity” to "engage the whole nation in a public conversation about the Christian message."
“This Easter the whole country will be talking about Jesus. Not about church politics or the finer points of theology, but about Jesus.”