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Mary Magdalene


Mary Magdalene (Garth Davis, 2018) wr. Helen Edmunson, Philippa Goslett, dp Greig Fraser; Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix; biopic; story of a young woman who leaves her small fishing village and family to join a new movement. Inspired by its charismatic leader, Jesus of Nazareth, and his teachings, Mary sets out with the disciples on the journey to Jerusalem, where she finds herself at the centre of the founding story of Christianity.

One of the reasons I wanted to see it is to get some idea of what Judaea might have been like back then - so, for historical reasons. And the opening scenes encouraged me to think that I might learn something - Greig Fraser’s photography is very good, and the landscape looked appropriately unhospitable.

The only work that seems to be going on is herding and fishing, and Mary M seems to be a fisherman’s daughter. Everyone seems to be living in hand-to-mouth abject poverty. But as soon as ‘the Healer’ appears on the scene, everybody stops working. Mary literally drops the tool she’s using to mend a net and goes to join the merry band of disciples. Well, at least one of them seems to be inappropriately merry, as Jesus himself seems to be pretty miserable, and probably a bit deranged.

Joaquin Bottom (his birth name) is 43, but looks older - and much older than the 30-33 Jesus is supposed to have been, and is not nearly as turn-the-other-cheek as the guy in the Bible. In fact, he does look quite like a rebellious insurgent - what we would now call a ‘terrorist’.

My main gripe about the film - as it was about Lion, Davis’s only other feature - is that he clearly cannot direct actors, and has no global concept of the artwork (the film) as a whole (I realise I can’t claim to know that - let’s say I intuit it). Phoenix is all over the place emotionally, and it’s hard to see that he has a lived-in core idea of what his version of Jesus is like.

Joaquin’s partner IRL is … Rooney Mara. It was probably contractual that if she took a role, so did he - or the other way around. Do they have sex in the film? ... How dare I mention it! Of course they couldn’t. It would be something like sacrilege.

Guy Lodge:
For Davis, following the Oscar-gilded success of his debut feature Lion, Mary Magdalene must be regarded as an ambitious sophomore slump, even as it refines and consolidates his tawny, lyrical style. That style, once again abetted by the airy calico wizardry of cinematographer Greig Fraser, is increasingly the most enlivening element of Mary Magdalene as it settles into a subdued, repetitive rhythm of timid spiritual inquiry and affirmation, the film’s tasteful restraint often tipping over into outright inertia. Variety.

Garry Gillard | New: 16 August, 2018 | Now: 11 January, 2023