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Think of actor David Suchet as a sort of Christian Rick Steves. With his 2015 documentary In the Footsteps of St. Peter, he guides us cheerily along the highways of the apostle’s life. He hits major points of the New Testament and heads down intriguing byways, based more on tradition and theory. Along the way, he may stop now and then to sample a local delicacy, like fried tilapia sold in Galilean ports as “Peter’s fish,” or to admire a lovely 11th-century fresco.
It’s a lot more fun than your average take-your-medicine educational documentary (and a lot more likely to leave you with an urge to book plane tickets).
Suchet is best known for playing Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. So he can’t resist hamming it up in high thespian style now and then. But that’s all part of the charm. We not only hear from experts on the theological significance of certain details of Peter’s life, we experience Suchet’s childlike delight at casting nets with Galilean fishermen and examining a boat similar to what the disciples would have used.
Like its predecessor, In the Footsteps of St. Paul, this film is a mainstream BBC production, so it doesn’t proselytize. As Suchet wrote in The Telegraph, “I’m not trying to evangelise. I’m just trying to bring to people one of the most extraordinary men that ever lived.” Yet his faith shines through: When he visits Mount Tabor, he muses in awed tones that he could be standing on the ground where Jesus was transfigured. Later he exclaims how different scholarly Jewish debates are from the kinds of Bible studies he attends.
Even more impressive are the experts he consults. None actively undermine Biblical narratives as in similar documentaries. A few, like King’s College London history professor Joan Taylor, even subtly bolster it. Taylor explains she doesn’t believe Christianity would have been possible without miracles: “We know that the Messiah was expected to do extraordinary things because of one particular Dead Sea Scroll. It says that among the works of the Messiah, [He] would heal the blind, raise up those who were bowed down, raise the dead, and preach the good news. So Jesus was doing this, proving that He had the power that was expected of the Messiah.”
Longtime believers will likely find the second episode more engaging than the first. It leaves the well-worn particulars of Peter’s life, described in the New Testament, and moves into cautious speculation, like where and when he might have traveled in Turkey to new churches.
Some Christians may take issue with a few moments, as when Suchet asserts that the Cappadocian mountains were formed over 10 million years. But overall, he makes such an amiable guide in a good-faith effort to shed light on the Apostle Peter’s life, even young-earth viewers aren’t likely to regret taking the journey with him. The documentary is streaming on Amazon Prime.