Buried Credits, a column that deep dives into the IMDB pages of favorite actors, directors, and writers to find their lost, forgotten, or unknown film and TV credits, continues this week with works featuring Christian Bale.
Mary, Mother of Jesus (1999)
I would like to precede this article stating that I am not religious and I don’t know much about The Bible, so this review will not be based on accuracy, but solely on the film itself.
Before Christian Bale starred as the biblical figure Moses in Ridley Scott’s poorly received Exodus: Gods and Men, and even before the 2011 Golden Globes and Academy Awards appearance of “Jesus Bale” sporting some lovely facial hair, he starred in the 1999 TV film Mary, Mother of Jesus as the Son of God himself. Directed by Kevin Connor (The Land That Time Forgot, At the Earth’s Core, Motel Hell), it not only gave the world Jesus Bale over a decade before the internet meme was started, but it also gave us a very interesting coincidence with Pernilla August being Jesus’ mother. That in and of itself isn’t anything odd, but knowing that in this movie she gave birth to a prophetic child without a biological father who would one day go on to do great things, as well as her playing Shmi Skywalker in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace for giving birth to Anakin Skywalker, another prophetic child with no biological father who would go on to do great things. The icing on the cake of this coincidence is the fact that both movies were released in the year 1999. If that’s not one of the most fascinating things in film trivia, I don’t know what is.
Mary, Mother of Jesus starts out with Mary (younger Mary portrayed by Melinda Kinnaman) and her to-be husband Joseph (David Threlfall) in a town in Palestine being raided by Roman soldiers. They have come to their town to let everyone know that, in nine months, every man, woman, and child will travel to the king and register themselves with him. Micah is tired of being pushed around and stands up to them and, obviously, is attacked for doing so, before Mary eventually is able to get the Romans to stop. She prays to God and asks what she can do and why humans are like this and, God’s response is a vision of a man telling her that her friend older Elizabeth is pregnant and that one day Mary will be too and she will bear a great child. Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, who has been deemed too old to have a child, and sees that she is even nearing birth. Elizabeth has seen God’s messenger, as her husband Zachariah (Edward Hardwicke), and after the birth of John, who grows up to be John the Baptist, Mary goes back to her home to tell Joseph about John as well as her pregnancy which is now starting to appear. Eventually Mary gives birth to Jesus, portrayed at a younger age by Toby Bailiff (Toby Bailiff) and as an adult by Christian Bale, and the rest of the film follows Mary’s perspective throughout the life of Jesus.
I’d like to start off with saying this film is very much a made-for-TV movie. There’s nothing wrong with a movie like that, but it comes with inherent faults, such as average talent behind the camera and mediocre production values. The film looks quite bland most of the time. Some of the acting isn’t great and some of the dialogue occasionally comes off as uninspired. It also doesn’t really have the emotional impact of something like The Passion of the Christ, although this film does cover a much longer time frame with a very short run time for a story this big, so there are some reasons for it’s lack of emotional depth.
There is a lot of good in this film as well, the best being the fact that it kept me completely enthralled. It’s a fascinating story with some good main actors and really interesting events going on throughout. It tried to realistically show some of the things wrong with how women were treated during that time period, portraying stoning for adultery and being looked down upon for being a “forward woman” as negative things. Furthermore, I liked it portrayed Jesus as being very human, which I’m not used to hearing about when it comes to talking about Jesus. Showing Jesus as a very human character helped me care for him more, as well as create a nice complexity to the story. That said, it didn’t always benefit the story; like the scene where Jesus came out to say that he was the Son of God – he did so very stubborn and angrily. It was nice seeing a curious learning human side to him, but seeing him with such hostility occasionally just felt off.
Christian Bale had come a long way since Treasure Island having been in such popular films as Newsies, Swing Kids, Disney’s Pocahontas, and even the adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His acting skills have improved greatly since he was a child and it is shown off quite well here. He oozes talent with an array of emotions; from curiosity, tenderness and wonder, anger, happiness, and sorrow, and is able to switch through all of those almost instantaneously, something I loved about him when I first saw him in American Psycho. My only problem here is he doesn’t seem to be able to harness that talent very well. Some scenes feel like the emotions he is portraying are slightly overpowering him, causing him to, yes, “over act,” and it doesn’t come across very well. It feels a little sloppy, but that’s only in a couple scenes, all of the rest of the movie he is quite fantastic.
Verdict: Buried Treasure
Mary, Mother of Jesus isn’t the best film out there, but it’s still pretty decent. It’s budget and status as a made-for-TV film, not to mention the whitewashing that every American made historical Bible-related film seems to have, hurt the film a decent amount. But there is still a lot of good to be found here. It’s got tonnes of heart and doesn’t come off as too preachy either – plus it has some great acting. Christian Bale isn’t at his best here, but he’s still very very good. Overall, it’s well worth a watch.