‘Jesus of Nazareth’ (TV)

‘JESUS OF NAZARETH’

Please feel free to comment on my review.

Four Episodes about Jesus

This is a live-action depiction about the story of Jesus that I grew up with since I was a child! 🙂

‘Jesus of Nazareth’ is a TV mini-series released in 1977. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Robert Powell as Jesus, this TV serial dramatizes the birth, life, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ in Biblical times when Israel was under the Roman Empire’s oppressive occupation. 🙂

I’ve mentioned ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ quite a number of times in my reviews. I’ve also reviewed other film depictions of the story of Jesus, including ‘The Nativity Story’ and ‘The Miracle Maker’. My parents and I often watch the crucifixion and resurrection parts of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ at Easter time.

It’s interesting to talk about ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ as a TV serial. Originally, my parents owned it as four VHS releases, making up the four episodes of the four-part serial it was. That was in the 1990s and how I was introduced to the serial. I recall watching the Nativity story in ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ vividly. 🙂

My parents and I would watch ‘Jesus of Nazareth’s version of the Nativity story in ‘Part One’ on VHS almost every Christmas in the 1990s. Sometime later, I was introduced to the Easter story involving Jesus’ death and resurrection in ‘Part Four’ of the serial on VHS. This brings back nostalgic memories

I would watch ‘Parts Two and Three’ of the serial on VHS at later points in my life in the 1990s. When the advent of DVD came around in 2000, ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ was re-released in a condensed two-part version of the serial, with a running time at about 270 minutes. We purchased the DVD in 2001.

I didn’t mind the condensed two-part version of the serial on a 2-disc DVD at the time I saw it in the 2000s, though I noticed certain scenes cut from the edit. The Nativity story and the Easter story were still intact for the most part and as long as my parents and I were able to enjoy it, it was fine for me.

It would be years later (2006 and 2011, I believe) where ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ would be re-released in the four-part version edit I remember from watching the VHS tapes. This had a running time of 374 minutes altogether, although two scenes are missing from the supposed unedited version of the TV serial. 😦

I’ll delve into this more when we get to talk about the ‘Part Four’ section of the serial later on. In any case, I’m pleased to have revisited ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ in its entirety. The Biblical story of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ as told by Franco Zeffirelli and his production team has been greatly enjoyable to watch. 🙂

Whilst some might consider this a worthy depiction of the story of Jesus in live-action, I’m aware there are elements added into the dramatisation that don’t match to what’s in the four New Testament Gospels the serial is based on, including Matthew’s, Mark’s, Luke’s and John’s Gospels. 😐

This includes the addition of new characters like Zerah and such. I hope to elaborate what I’ve enjoyed from watching ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ and explain why this depiction of the Jesus story means so much to me, as well as establishing what flaws can be found from watching ‘Jesus of Nazareth’. 🙂

‘Part One’ of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ mostly tells the Nativity Story right up to the point where John the Baptist is preaching to people about the coming of the Messiah. As established, my parents and I often like to watch ‘Part One’ of this serial at around Christmas time, mainly on Christmas Eve night.

This is something we did recently for our Christmas in 2021. It’s good to watch the Nativity story in ‘Part One’ of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ to get into the festive feel before bedtime and before Christmas Day. It also helps to remember the birth of Jesus, as it’s the most important thing about Christmas. 🙂

In terms of the cast featured in the Nativity story, they include Olivia Hussey as Mary and Yorgo Voyagis as Joseph. I liked the journey Mary and Joseph went through in the Nativity story in terms of getting to Bethlehem and having Jesus be born. It’s a contrast to what’s presented in the 2006/2011 DVD release.

There are also the three Wise Men, including James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader in ‘Star Wars’ 😀 ) as Balthazar, Donald Pleasence (who’s been in ‘The Barchester Chronicles’) as Melchior and Fernando Rey as Gaspar. It was interesting to see how the gift-giving scene was presented here.

Their gift-giving of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus takes place days after the shepherds visit Jesus on the night he was born in Bethlehem. Peter Ustinov plays Herod the Great, the king who wanted all the babies killed when he heard news that the Baby Jesus had been born in Bethlehem. 😐

Incidentally, each of the four episodes of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, whether they’d be on the four VHS releases or the 2011 2-disc DVD, is about two hours in length. So, you could argue that each episode of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ is like its own film. I’m sure this is the case when they were presented in 1977.

In ‘Parts Two and Three’ of the serial, we’re properly introduced to Robert Powell as Jesus. I find Robert Powell delivering an interesting and enjoyable performance as Jesus. Franco Zeffirelli wanted to depict Jesus as ‘an ordinary man – gentle, fragile, simple’. Some say that denies his divine nature.

I wouldn’t agree with the latter viewpoint and I can see why Franco Zeffirelli would want Robert Powell to appear more human in order to connect with the people of Israel when he spends time on Earth. With that said though, there are occasions where I think Robert Powell underplays Jesus a bit.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing significantly wrong with the way Robert Powell is playing Jesus. It can’t be easy to get a definitive depiction of Jesus in film or TV. I’m not sure what would be considered a definitive depiction of Jesus. Robert Powell does a believable interpretation of Jesus. 🙂

Mind you, there are times where Robert Powell pauses quite a bit whenever people are talking to him and there are moments of silence when he takes a while to answer someone’s question. I’m not sure if that’s deliberate on Robert Powell’s part, but sometimes this can be quite distracting here. 😐

I was compelled when Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son and it got everyone compelled when they were listening to Jesus telling it. And the scenes where Jesus became emotional at times such as in Jerusalem and when he was being crucified are also compelling to witness in this TV serial.

Perhaps Robert Powell could’ve done with more smiles and laughs in the serial, as there are times when he might be too serious. I’m not expecting Jesus to crack a joke or anything like that, but the occasional laughter where perhaps he’s talking with his disciples wouldn’t go amiss in watching this.

And I stress, I’m not saying Robert Powell’s portrayal of Jesus is terrible. He ranks highly for me in playing a good depiction of Jesus. It’s just that I’ve become aware of other depictions of Jesus over the years and I wonder whether Robert Powell’s version is the correct one or not. I would like to think so here.

Other cast members featured in ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ are Anne Bancroft as Mary Magdalene. There’s also Ernest Borgnine as the Roman Centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant from a distance. I liked that scene between Jesus and the Roman Centurion when I revisited ‘Part Three’ on DVD lately.

There’s also Christopher Plummer as Herod Antipas, Valentina Cortese as Herodias, and Claudia Cardinale as the Adulteress. I liked the scene where Jesus challenged those who were about to stone the Adulteress, questioning them whether they were ‘without sin’ and worthy to stone her to death.

James Farentio plays Simon Peter, Jesus’ most well-known disciple. I liked how James Farentio plays Peter, as he grows to love Jesus and becomes fiercely loyal to him, even after he denied him three times in the story. The scene where Peter tells the other disciples they all betrayed Jesus was compelling. 🙂

There’s Ian McShane as Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrays Jesus in the Easter segment of the serial. It was interesting to see Judas depicted in the serial. Initially, he wished to follow Jesus, but he becomes torn when he finds his viewpoint doesn’t match to what Jesus’ messages of love are about.

Michael York plays John the Baptist in the serial. Fun fact: Michael York would later be the narrator of ‘The Word of Promise Audio Bible’. There’s also James Mason as Joseph of Arimathea, Laurence Olivier as Nicodemus, Anthony Quinn as Caiaphas and Ralph Richardson as Simeon in the TV serial. 🙂

Cyril Cusack plays Yehuda and Ian Holm (Bilbo Baggins in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ film trilogy) plays Zerah. Zerah is one of the characters featured in ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ who isn’t in the Bible. I don’t mind him in ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ and it’s interesting how he manipulates Judas Iscariot (more shortly).

Stacy Keach plays Barabbas, who gets chosen to be set free at the Passover instead of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s interesting how Barabbas gets depicted as a Zealot trying to cause trouble in Jerusalem and starting up a riot in ‘Part Three’. It’s also interesting to see Barabbas talk to Jesus in this serial. 😐

It’s good to see the many miracles performed by Jesus in the serial. This includes the healing of Jairus’ daughter, the healing of the blind man, the feeding of the 500 thousand and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. A pity other miracles aren’t shown in this serial like the calming of the storm.

In ‘Part Four’ of the serial, we come to an issue I have about the 2006/2011 2-disc DVD release. This depends on what version you have of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, whether it’d be the four VHS releases, the 2-part condensed version of the serial on the 2000 DVD or the four-part version on the 2006/2011 DVD. 😐

Presented in the ‘Part Four’ VHS release and the 2000 2-disc DVD, there are two scenes that are significant in the TV serial. They include the scene where Zerah manipulates Judas to bring Jesus to the Sanhedrin as well as the opening of the Last Supper sequence before Judas goes to betray Jesus.

These two scenes aren’t included in the 2006/2011 DVD release when viewing ‘Part Four’ of the serial. I was disappointed about this, as I hoped the four-part version on the 2006/2011 DVD release would’ve included all the scenes I remember watching in the four-part version on VHS. It was very disparaging.

When watching ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ recently in 2021, I had to switch from the 2006/2011 DVD to the 2000 DVD in order for my parents and me to view the complete Last Supper sequence of the serial. I’m baffled as to why the DVD producers would omit those scenes, since they are pretty significant here.

It establishes why Judas would betray Jesus with Zerah’s influence as well as establishing from Jesus that Peter would deny him three times before the cock crowed twice. Unless you’re familiar with the New Testament or watched the 2000 DVD version beforehand, you’d be baffled by what’s going on.

There is an unedited version of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ on YouTube. It has about all the scenes I know from watching the serial, but there aren’t any episode breaks. It’s like a continuous eight hour film. You would have to make your own episode breaks whilst you’re watching the TV serial on YouTube.

The cast also includes Rod Steiger as Pontius Pilate and Tony Lo Bianco as Quintillius, Pilate’s right-hand man. The performances of the actors are very good, especially when they deliver lines that are taken from the Biblical scriptures. I’m astounded by the passion delivered by the actors in the serial.

The climactic scenes of Jesus’ crucifixion are very heart-wrenching, especially when Jesus suffers to die on the cross to save us from our sins. It doesn’t match to what Mel Gibson might have provided in ‘The Passion of the Christ’, but the emotions are clearly evident and you can’t help be moved by it.

The serial concludes on a reassuring note with the news of Jesus’ resurrection spreading throughout Israel, whether it’d be to Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ disciples. I like how the serial closes with Jesus being with his disciples one more time before he’s about to ascend to heaven and be with his father.

There are also cast members like Ian Bannen as Amos, Marina Berti as Elizabeth, Regina Bianchi as Ann, Maria Carta as Martha, Lee Montague as Habbukuk, Renato Rascel as the Blind Man and Oliver Tobias as Joel. There’s Robert Beatty as Proculus, Roy Holder as Enoch and Tony Vogel as Andrew. 🙂

There’s Steve Gardner as Philip, Renato Montalbano as Jairus, Keith Skinner as a possessed boy, Cyril Shaps as the possessed boy’s father, Jonathan Muller as James the son of Zebedee, John Duttine as John, Bruce Lidington as Thomas, Keith Washington as Matthew and John Eastham as Bartholomew.

There’s also Sergio Nicolai as James the son of Alphaeus and Francis de Wolff as Simon the Pharisee. And there’s Tim Pearce as Rufus, Mark Eden as Quartus, Simon MacCorkindale as Lucius and Donald Sumpter as Aram. Apparently, many of the cast members have worked with Franco Zeffirelli before.

Actors and actresses like Olivia Hussey, Michael York and Roy Holder have appeared in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film ‘Romeo and Juliet’. I recall seeing some of that film when I was studying Shakespeare’s play at school. Nice to make the connections between that and ‘Jesus of Nazareth’! 🙂

‘Jesus of Nazareth’ is a very compelling dramatisation of the story of Jesus Christ. It’s well-made by Franco Zeffirelli and his production team and it features a very good cast, led by Robert Powell as Jesus. I enjoy watching ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ whether it’d be for the Nativity story or the Easter story. 🙂

There are issues I have with the 2006/2011 DVD release not containing two significant scenes from the VHS release of ‘Part Four’ and the 2000 DVD release. Despite that, I still enjoy watching ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ when I can. It’s a TV serial that means a lot to me and my parents in remembering Jesus. 🙂

‘Jesus of Nazareth’ rating – 9/10


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