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Six key films to watch over Easter

As the Christian festival of Easter and the Jewish one of Passover approach this week, here is a list of six key films (three for each) to watch over the holidays as recommended by Nathan Abrams, Professor of Film at the School of Music and Media:

1. The Ten Commandments (1956)

The biblical story of Exodus has proved popular with filmmakers ever since the silent era and has been made several times but the one to watch is Cecil B. DeMille’s 1950s epic, starring Charlton Heston as Moses. In 70mm widescreen, with full colour, DeMille recreated the Bible in a way never seen before as a way to fight the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Fun fact: Jell-O was used for the effect of splitting the Red Sea. 

2. The Prince of Egypt (1998) 

Produced by Steven Spielberg’s newly established Dreamworks, this animated adventure is a great one to watch with the kids. It stays remarkably faithful to the Jewish story and features Val Kilmer as Moses (and the voice of God). 

3. Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

This Ridley Scott version updates DeMille’s but isn’t nearly half as good. Still, for a recreation of the biblical story, it’s worth a watch. Although personally, I’d go for either Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 Spartacus or Otto Preminger’s Exodus for a Passover-themed movie. 

4. The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Definitely not one to watch with the family, Mel Gibson’s imagining of the last days of Jesus is violent and gory, fitting into the genre of movies known as ‘torture porn’. Given its 2004 context, it has been read as both an anti-death penalty, as well as one to motivate the United States public to get behind fighting the Iraq War. It is also remarkable for being spoken in the original languages.  

5. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Again, another one not recommended for family viewing given that it’s directed by Martin Scorsese (also Catholic like Mel Gibson). Willem Dafoe stars as Jesus and Harvey Keitel as Judas Iscariot. David Bowie also makes a cameo as Pontius Pilate. 

6. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

This musical drama was adapted from the rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber/Time Rice. Shot in Israel and other middle eastern locations, it definitely has more of a feelgood factor than the other Easter movies and looks very much of its time, the 1970s.

Publication date: 9 April 2020