Directed by Franco Zeffirelli
Rai 1 (Italy) / ITV (United Kingdom) / NBC (United States)
March 27, 1977 to April 24, 1977
Mary Magdalene-Anne Bancroft
Roman Centurion-Ernest Borgnine
The Adulteress-Claudia Cardinale
Balthazar-James Earl Jones
Joseph of Arimathea-James Mason
Judas Iscariot-Ian McShane
Herod Antipas-Christopher Plummer
Pontius Pilate-Rod Steiger
Herod the Great-Peter Ustinov
John the Baptist-Michael York
From before the Nativity and through the Crucifixion and Resurrection, this is the story of the Ministry of Jesus.
This is justifiably seen by many as the definitive filmed depiction of Jesus is life. After watching this you will realize no other comes close. None is better. It set a standard in quality and assembled talent that has not been touched. From the environment to the acting to the cast, this is nearly perfect.
The cast is expansive. We have a veritable Who’s Who of up-and-coming or already there actors of the day. It feels like everybody who was anybody from that time showed up in this miniseries. I would love to list every talent involved but that would be a significant blog post unto itself. All I can do really is hit some highlights. For some this was my first introduction to them. Others I was aware of their greatness beforehand. They came together and created something amazing that was a work of art.
In Jesus of Nazareth The Disciples are portrayed as men confronted with the extraordinary. They know the further they go with this the further from the comfort of their old lives they will get and eventually reach a point from which they can never return but it is something greater and more important they are called to do than they have ever been called before to do.
The film deemphasizes special effects in favor of keeping the focus on events and the message. There is no razzle dazzle when a miracle occurs. There is barely even any music to let you know something extraordinary has happened.
Liberties were taken in order to tell the story. One thing they do is introduce a few characters not in the Bible such as Sir Ian Holm’s Zerah who acts as the chief villain of the film and helps to give Judas his motivation for betrayal. Others are Quintillius, Yehuda and Amos. Thomas is portrayed as a servant of Jairus but this is not mentioned in the Bible. We have a scene depicting the death of Joseph but in the Bible, Joseph simply ceases to be mentioned. These are just a few random examples and there are quite a few more. If you are intimately familiar with the details of the story you will notice them, but it is nothing that the average person will notice nor is it anything that “modernizes” the story. Some actors were also reused after they initially appeared with the implication being their character was involved at both points. I think this was just a case of saving money.
This was a miniseries that was actually a mini television series. Today with the advent of Disney+ or other streaming services, the term miniseries has come to include any short run concept that ties into a larger film universe but back in the day a miniseries was a short series that had a beginning, middle, and end and that was it. It tied into nothing else. You would not get a season two.
Jesus of Nazareth is something like 382 minutes (do the math on that in hours) but it moves so briskly. A fine script coupled with fantastic acting can do that. That is about six and half hours if you watch straight through. For something that lacks action and cool special effects that can be a tough slog but the time movies so quickly and easily by. I rewatched this in a single afternoon and it did not feel long at all. I looked at the clock and was surprised at the time.
What we have in Jesus of Nazareth is an immersive world. They do not put a halfhearted effort into it with the costumes or the dialogue or the general environment. Between the actors and the costumes and sets you can almost believe you are in first century Judea watching the story unfold.
Franco Zeffirelli was one of the great directors. He gave heart and passion and genuine emotion to the story. He crafted real people whose stories could move you. He not only put forth a good story. He made a work of art.
This probably Robert Powell’s best-known role. If you are going to have one well known part this is probably a good one to have. He was quite possibly the perfect Jesus. Powell rarely blinks, a decision by director Franco Zeffirelli, and created something mesmerizing. He is hypnotic and otherworldly to watch.
Jesus of Nazareth is an amazing miniseries. It is a well-paced story that will move you and hold you throughout. This is most definitely a watch it!