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In our so-called golden age of television, where big visions and big budgets bring sweeping historical epics to life, one of my constant gripes is the shortage of successfully developed shows based on the Bible. It’s especially galling because I’ve seen several decent Bible films in the last few years that would have made outstanding TV series. The latest case in point: Paul, Apostle of Christ.
Paul’s story certainly works as a movie, thanks especially to the acting talent of Jim Caviezel (who plays Luke) and veteran British character actor James Faulkner (Paul). And there’s plenty of historically accurate drama, like the threat of Emperor Nero and his bloody circuses and Roman candles fueled with the bodies of Christians, to keep the story riveting.
The well-executed film mines fresh tension out of old material—like what early believers such as Aquila and Priscilla must have experienced in deciding whether to stay in Rome or scatter to safer cities. Then there are the temptations the early church faced that we still battle today—whether to look for worldly solutions to oppression and discrimination. Perhaps most intriguing is seeing Paul reflect on his time as the persecuting Saul of Tarsus and struggle through prayer to “forget what is past” so he can press on toward the goals God has given him.
All gripping stuff, but it’s a lot of ground to cover—so much that, watching the film, it’s hard to feel invested in any one storyline, including Paul’s. There’s even a subplot involving a disgraced Roman official with a dying daughter who happens to be guarding Paul.
Still, because the script mines intriguing elements of Paul’s story and the establishment of the early church, it’s a good viewing choice for the Easter season. Writer/director Andrew Hyatt even works some fantastic Bible insider jokes into the dialogue, like when Luke hands Paul money donated from the churches and quips, “Even the Corinthians gave generously, if you can believe it.”
But you can’t help imagining what the story could have been, had it been told through a long-form medium like television. Of course, that would only work if the networks hired writers and producers who cared about accurately reflecting the spirit of Scripture, as Mark Burnett and Roma Downey did with their smash-hit series The Bible.
In contrast, we have ABC’s and NBC’s failed attempts to adapt King David’s story. Both of those weird, soulless interpretations were developed by people who were clearly uncomfortable with David’s faith and love for God and so left them out almost entirely. It would be like HBO hiring writers who don’t like fantasy novels to adapt Game of Thrones. No surprise, few were interested in watching.
Paul’s story, as this film proves, has enough drama, emotion, and spectacle to capture any binge-watcher. I’ll happily take the two hours it offers. But I’d love to have more.