Film Review: Mary Magdalene

Garth Davis’ Mary Magdalene offers good performances and a mesmeric feel. Despite its efforts however, the film does not distinguish itself fully from other biblical epics.

Mary Magdalene is due to be married to a suitor, on the wishes of her family. However, Mary is searching for something more. When Jesus of Nazareth visits her village, she feels compelled to join his movement…

The story of Jesus has been told on film numerous times. Director Garth Davis’ film offers a different take on this, viewing the well-known events through a hitherto peripheral character. The film tells the familiar story, but also tells the story of Mary Magdalene. A character that has been given a particular representation in the mainstream, the film offers a differing perspective.

The narrative begins by concentrating on Mary’s circumstances; her first contact with Jesus does not come until after the title character has been established. After Mary joins Jesus’ band of followers, the story becomes much more familiar. Even in these events, much of what is seen is from the perspective of the title character. It is uncertain whether Mary Magdalene was as involved in all these key moments as the film suggests, yet writers Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett clearly wish to emphasise her importance.

Mary Magdalene has a mesmeric quality to it. The film feels more pensive than other biblical epics, with a higher focus on spirituality. This comes through thanks to the protagonist and following her spiritual journey, as well as her interpretation of Jesus’ teachings. The contrast between Mary’s understanding and that of some of the other apostles seems to mirror some of the divides in contemporary Christianity.

Rooney Mara delivers a believable performance as the title character. Joaquin Phoenix is convincingly cast as Jesus, he offers a charisma which seems suitable for the character. Tahir Rahim is suitably zealous in his role. Mary Magdalene is at its most interesting when it focuses on its title character. In telling the story of the Crucifixion, the film feels too much like the numerous other adaptions of this tale.

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