On Bible Films Blog, Matthew Page got to this before I did, but today the BBC put out a press release on its Passion production which is to air next March. Here is the the full text of today's press release, with a couple of comments about my involvement appended underneath:
BBC One and BBC Drama present a new production of the story of The Passion for Easter 2008
Category: TV Drama; BBC One
Announced today, the creation of a bold event drama retelling the last week in the life of Jesus Christ – The Passion – written by Emmy Award-winner Frank Deasy (Prime Suspect 7), a BBC Drama Production in association with HBO and Deep Indigo.
Joseph Mawle (Soundproof), James Nesbitt (Murphy's Law), Paul Nicholls (Clapham Junction), Ben Daniels (State Within), Laura Fraser (Casanova), Denis Lawson (Bleak House) and David Oyelowo (Five Days) lead the cast in this unique and compelling dramatisation.
Nigel Stafford-Clark (Bleak House) produces.
The Passion will be stripped across Easter week on BBC One, drawing to a dramatic climax on Easter Sunday.
Visually arresting and rich in colour, the story is rooted in the tangled and chaotic world in which it took place – the city of Jerusalem during Passover week.
Set in the political and religious context of the time, it combines both narrative tension and thematic power to convey the extraordinary events that took place that week in a bold and distinctive way.
This production places the audience at the heart of the action by telling the story from three points of view – the religious authorities, the Romans and Jesus.
For the first time, all the key players are intimately characterised with Jesus (Joseph Mawle) at the centre.
Full of emotion and charged with energy, beginning with Jesus's prophetic entrance through the East Gate, following him to his crucifixion and its startling aftermath.
Award-winning producer Nigel Stafford-Clark says: "The Passion is a gripping, multi-stranded dramatisation of not just the most familiar but arguably the greatest story ever told.
"Both truthful and simple, it gives it back to the audience in a way that will feel as fresh, contemporary and surprising as if it were happening for the first time."
Jane Tranter, Controller, BBC Fiction, says: "Challenging and bold programming and scheduling that you would only find on the BBC, The Passion is an example of BBC Drama's commitment to deliver ambitious and distinctive projects.
"It is a privilege to be making such a major piece of drama from the brilliant Frank Deasy, directed by Michael Offer with an amazing cast.
"We are delighted to be collaborating once again with HBO, continuing our strong creative relationship which has seen us working together on many projects, most recently Five Days, Stuart: A Life Backwards and Einstein And Eddington."
The Passion is produced by Nigel Stafford-Clark (Bleak House), written by Frank Deasy (Prime Suspect 7) and directed by Michael Offer (State Within).
The Executive Producer is Hilary Salmon.
The Passion was shot entirely in Morocco.
Notes to Editors
It's the start of Passover week. In the next few days Jerusalem will more than double in size as thousands of pilgrims come to celebrate the most important festival in their religious calendar.
For their Roman masters, it is the tensest time of the year. Palestine is an unruly province at the best of times, prone to insurgency and driven by an ancient religion that the Romans neither understand nor appreciate.
Indeed, for most of the year the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, and his force of 3,000 legionaries base themselves by the sea in the city of Caesarea, where they can enjoy the pleasures of civilisation well away from the perils of Jerusalem's narrow streets.
But for the festivals, and particularly for Passover with its undertones of resistance to imperial power, they move back into the capital city and prepare for trouble.
For the High Priest Caiaphas and his Temple priests too, Passover is not an easy time. The Temple in Jerusalem is the epicentre of the Jewish religion, and during Passover their workload will be immense – on one day alone, some 10,000 lambs will have to be ritually sacrificed in the Temple in the space of a few hours to ensure that every family has its lamb for the Passover meal.
And there is pressure on Caiaphas in other ways. As High Priest, civil unrest is also his responsibility. His Temple guards are the local police force, and it is their job to keep order amongst the civilian population.
Any trouble and the Romans will swiftly move in. And everyone knows what that means.
As Pilate and his wife move rather reluctantly back into their Jerusalem apartments, and Caiaphas and his colleagues review known troublemakers and insurgents who might be on their way to the city, no-one gives much thought to a local preacher from the backwaters of Galilee, who is also making his way to Jerusalem with a gang of followers bonded by two years on the road – a tough, resourceful group whose loyalty is absolute.
Then news is brought that the Galileean is approaching the city on a donkey's colt, and will be entering Jerusalem through the East Gate – thus fulfilling two of the most powerful religious prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. The one who many believe will lead them to military victory or spiritual salvation.
On the streets a crowd is beginning to gather. And the week has only just begun...
A couple of minor comments. First, this story is widely reported today with the error that it is five episodes. It is actually six. Second, when the press release above says "Easter Week", it should read "Holy Week". I assume that it will run from Monday-Good Friday + Easter Sunday.
More substantively, I am happy to report that I have seen rough edits of the first two episodes and they are really excellent. I am very excited about this, having been involved with this project as a consultant for just over two years. In due course, I would like to tell the story of the project from the sidelines of my small contribution. At this stage, though, I should not be revealing any of its secrets, so my story will have to wait.