As the UK becomes more secular it is increasingly rare to have programmes with overtly religious overtones on mainstream TV, and certainly not in a prime time Saturday slot.
There is still Songs of Praise on BBC1 on Sunday, but this is increasingly just a travelogue of historic churches mixed in with some choir singing (all the rage at the moment thanks to Gareth Malone and his programmes on choirs).
Channel 5 have decided to singlehandedly reverse the trend with their new Saturday night prime time mini-series “The Bible“. What’s even more unusual about this programme is that it is also sponsored by two religious organisations Spring Harvest and WhatIsInTheBible. It is rare seeing religious programmes on mainstream TV but it is even rarer to see overtly religious sponsors. It is also kind of ironic that is all on Channel 5, a channel that was once known to the readers of the Daily Mail as “Channel Filth” for its less than christian programming output.
As a source for epic stories of faith, betrayal, redemption, love and much more there is nothing better than the bible. From the creation of the earth to the horsemen of Apocalypse, the stories in the Bible would leave seasoned script-writers green with envy. So the series does have potential with tried and tested material available to it.
The first series which took us from Adam and Eve through to Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. For a mini-series it did not blow me away but was okay, although I am not sure how easy it would be to follow by people not familiar with the Bible.
There is also bound to be comparisons with some great biblical epics of the past like Cecil B DeMille’s Ten Commandments and Franco Zeferelli’s Jesus Of Nazareth. The epic confrontation between a passionately enraged Charlton Heston (Moses) and sinewed and obstinate Yul Brynner (Pharaoh) in the Ten Commandments makes the The Bible’s telling of the same story like an amateur dramatic society’s production, a comparison compounded by the The Bible’s casting of a particularly chubby and unthreatening Pharaoh.
All in all The Bible is a mildly engaging watch more suited as a matinee on a lazy Sunday afternoon when nothing else is on, and not going head with the Saturday night juggernauts of ITV’s X-Factor and BBC’s Casualty, where it is certainly to swept aside like numerous enemies of the Israelites in the ratings war.