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from the script by Anthony Burgess, Suso Cecchi d'Amico & Franco Zeffirelli
Jesus of Nazareth

click to enlarge

Fountain, Glasgow, 1977
(price: 75p; 128 pages)

The blurb on the back:

The world's best-known story - told as it never has been before.
William Barclay, an outstanding writer and scholar, dramatically recreates the life of Jesus, tracing his steps from childhood to the crucifixion. He vividly relates the hopes and fears of Jesus and his contemporaries, the political problems of an occupied country and the sectarian feuds of a religious nation, making them understandable and relevant to the twentieth century.
The same excitement is transmitted to the screen by Franco Zeffirelli in his spectacular new production:
Jesus of Nazareth.
With an internationally famous cast of stars and a budget of over 12 million, he presents a breath-taking portrayal of the Holy Land and the most controversial religious leader ever to emerge from it.
Full-colour photographs, taken during the filming, provide a stunning visual accompaniment to the text. Together they form one of the moving accounts of Christ ever written.

This has got to be the ultimate TV spin-off - a reworking of Anthony Burgess' reinterpretation of the Gospels. And such a wonderful opportunity for a writer: it's not often you get the chance to write a novelization of the word of God. Let alone the word of Burgess. (Incidentally, don't you love that wonderful bit of hubris on the cover: Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth?)

The five-hour ITV version of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, first screened in 1977, was an epic undertaking and had a grandeur and scale that you can't imagine British TV attempting nowadays. Unfortunately it was also entirely without risks. The emphasis was supposed to be on the humanity of Jesus as a bold re-imagining of the myth for a modern secular world, but the iconography was soaked in cliché and there was no real challenge to the Biblical account: history was wilfully disregarded in the face of superstition.

To take just the circumstances of the nativity, as an example. The story that a Roman census demanded the return of every family to their ancestral home is preserved despite there being no evidence for such a practice - it is patently absurd, and is included in (just) one Gospel, only because of a desperate desire to get Jesus born in Bethlehem. Similarly the Slaughter of the Innocents is included, even though it beggars belief that such an horrific crime against humanity has gone unrecorded by everyone else. And the flight to Egypt, which is a transparent bit of mythologizing intended to echo Moses, is repeated.

Accept the fact that this is intended as fiction, however, and it's not a bad little book. It's a cracking story, apart from anything else, though I don't want to say too much for fear of ruining the ending - suffice to say, there's a twist in the tail, so don't get too upset when the hero dies.

The paperback also comes with 16 pages of colour photographs. Here's a familiar looking chap:

It's Alive!
You can't keep a good man down:
the return of Lazarus


Like this? Try this...

Gore Vidal's Caligula

t.v. tie-ins