A.D. The Bible Continues, Season One (2015)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
A sprawling epic that takes place in the aftermath of the Messiah's crucifixion, A.D. centers around pivotal characters, Biblical, Historical, and Fictional. One of the largest and certainly the most impressive and high-quality productions aimed at religious audiences, it features a host of memorable characters, significant events, and stirring moments.
The shout is taken up by the crowd, under the subtle guidance of the High Priest, Caiaphas (Richard Coyle). Together with his wife, Leah (Johdi May), and with the encouragement of others among the Sanhedrin, he has conspired to bring the Messiah (Juan Pablo Di Pace) before Pilate, hoping for a death sentence. Though Pilate (Vincent Regan) finds no fault in this man, and his wife (Joanne Whalley) warns him that he will have cause to regret it, he agrees to the execution. Terrified that they will be arrested and killed as well, Jesus' disciples scatter... and Peter (Adam Levy) is devastated to fulfill Jesus' prophecy in denying Him three times. Only John (Babou Ceesay) has the courage to accompany Mary Magdalene (Chipo Chung) and Jesus' mother (Greta Sacci) to the crucifixion, and tearfully shares the event later with the disciples who creep into the upper room under the cover of darkness. Though dead, the Messiah overshadows all their lives that day, and for several days following... as Caiaphas violently reacts to his burial in a tomb, as Mary believes He will rise again, as the disciples attempt to discern whether they should remain in Jerusalem or flee while the coast is clear.
One earthquake, an angelic presence, and a stone rolled away later, and all their lives change... forever. Assassination attempts, insurrectionist groups, and political intrigue play out alongside the beginnings of the early church. Scripture, historical documents, and speculation are used to fill in the gaps in the Biblical narrative, and to flesh out characters from the different cultural groups involved. This is not a straight up Biblical retelling, but a fictionalized account of events in Jerusalem, featuring a large cast of diverse characters with different motives. The two most notable characters are Peter, a father and sudden leader grappling with newfound power, and Caiaphas, a hardened politician whose cruelties are written off as done to protect the Jewish race. Pilate is painted as even darker than the historical figure, bordering on the verge of insanity, while his wife attempts to deftly pull strings behind his back to undermine his brutal tactics.
Some viewers may not like the addition of fictional characters (notably, the Zealots) but it does broaden the story to include the religious and political upheaval at the time. The episodes follow a similar formula in that about half is fictionalized events and character driven, and the remaining events are all scripturally inspired. The history is a bit warped (Pilate did not crucify ten Jews a day until an assassin was found; that was likely drawn from the fall of Jerusalem and subsequent brutality in 69 AD, nor is it likely that half the disciples would be of African descent), but in all ways, this is a high quality production. Watching it week to week, the effect on my spiritual life was incredible. I was moved by it in ways that nothing else has ever moved me in before. It pulls no punches in addressing a lot of intense themes, including the power of forgiveness (if you do not forgive, it asks, are you truly a follower of Christ?). The miracles and instances of healing are goose bump-inducing. Tabitha's resurrection by the Holy Spirit actually brought me to tears. Each episode contrasts a lesson or belief in the followers of Jesus' lives, contrasted with the brutality of the external world.
The costuming and set design is gorgeous. The scripts are intense and well written. The characters are mysterious and nuanced. And the score is magnificent. Though I feel it goes overboard in terms of depicting violence, it keeps me on the edge of my seat and has inspired me to re-read the book of Acts and study the early church. It ends, yes, on a cliffhanger but also resolves some of its plot twists. I can't wait to own it.
Caligula and Agrippa make passes at slave girls (non-graphic groping, mild innuendo, pressing them against walls); they are shown asleep in a room with two half-undressed prostitutes. Mention of "whores" is made. Caligula rapes a servant (off-screen; we hear him mention how unwilling she was and laugh about it; she later cries on another woman's shoulder). Claudia infers that Caligula might summon her to Rome for his own pleasure.
Brutal and frequent. Jesus is flogged (briefly) and crucified (more graphic). The disciples are beaten and flogged. Men are beaten brutally and then strangled; Pilate stabs a man in the chest and twists in the knife; he orders him to be tortured and we see him burned with an iron before an arrow pierces his heart. Stephen is stoned to death (we see and hear many rocks strike his head, until it kills him). Saul has Christians tortured for information (we see them bruised and bloody); a man is smothered in his sleep. A woman is flogged (we see one lash strike, the rest happens off-screen); another is strangled (implied, seen out of focus in the background). A woman slaps a man; he then strikes her so that she falls to the floor and throttles her (to make a point; he soon stops).
Scripture is altered in some instances to accommodate a condensing of time and/or add theatrical elements.