Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene
Directed by Garth Davis
Starring Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ariane Labed, Ryan Corr and Tahar Rahim
In UK cinemas March 16th, 2018

by Bernie C Byrnes

If you like your Biblical Epics epic, then Mary Magdalene probably isn’t the film for you. There is a distinct lack of macho sword-swinging, Jesus bashing and hill-side conversions. In fact, Jesus seems like quite a regular guy in Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the Son of God (miracles aside of course).

What made this film work for me was its gentle normality. That and the fact that Mary Magdalene (played beautifully by Rooney Mara) has been rescued from her previously denigrated role of prostitute (handed to her by Pope Gregory) and reinstated to her rightful place as an apostle – if you believe in that sort of thing.

This truly is a feminist film and it is kind and gentle with it. Jesus likes Mary best because she thinks like women do instead of like the boys in his gang who are up for a fight most of the time. The film portrays empathy and mercy as belonging firmly in the feminine realm. Before you start throwing stones at me, I am totally aware that men are capable of these feelings too – I never said it was a balanced film – and while two wrongs don’t make a right, it’s nice to see the girls being celebrated for a change.

Unfortunately for Mary, the guys don’t see it that way. Peter hits 100% bromance jealousy when Jesus appears to Mary first after he has been resurrected. In fact, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Peter makes it clear that he doesn’t want a girl joining their gang right from the get-go. Tahar Rahim’s Judas finally comes out not looking like an irredeemable bastard. Instead he makes the fatal mistake of believing he can spur Jesus into action by having him arrested so that the judgment day will come and he can see his dead wife and child again. It’s a refreshing take on it.

Yes the film is slow, and at times a bit boring, but writers Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett have done something laudable here, namely taken the hysteria out of the story of the crucifixion. Anyone who knows anything about Catholicism (and until recently I was one) have been spoon-fed such a diatribe of how rubbish women are that it’s difficult to unpick unconscious bias from duty. This film does that; gently, quietly, with no fuss or bother but with the definite message that actually women can be pretty amazing.

Visually this film is stunning, every shot is beautiful enough to be an oil painting, and the performances are wonderful. Sadly I think Mary Magdalene will be poorly received. In an age where everything is speeding up, this film is just too slow to grab most people’s attention.

Like I say, I liked it. I thought it was clever, worthy without being preachy and genuinely beautiful. The fact that Rooney Mara gets top billing tells you pretty much everything you need to know about this film. Unfortunately, even that will probably annoy some people.


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