The Wednesday Play: The Son of Man (1969)

If you’re a modern Christian, you believe (or are at least supposed to believe) that Jesus was both man and God. However, the Bible is a bit sketchy about much to do with the man part of the equation, particularly the 30 or so years before Jesus’s ministry began, favouring instead the God part. Over the years, many writers have accordingly tried to humanise Jesus and to depict the man, rather than God, and just after Easter 1969, for one of the BBC’s Wednesday Plays, Dennis Potter threw his hat into the ring with Son Of Man

In the play, which was directed by regular Potter collaborator Gareth Davies, Potter portrays Jesus (Colin Blakely) as a hearty, fiery, well-meaning carpenter who believes that people should try to love their enemies rather than fight all the time, but who is racked by self doubt as to whether he is the popularly anticipated Messiah. Co-starring Edward Hardwicke as Judas, Brian Blessed as Peter and Robert Hardy as Pontius Pilate, the play eschews everything divine in Jesus’s story, as well as details such as the 30 pieces of silver and Mary Magdalene, in favour of psychological investigation of the characters, starting with Jesus’s struggle with his own divinity in the wilderness up to his crucifixion on Golgotha. 

Although shown just after Easter and despite Potter’s long-time bête noir, Mary Whitehouse, accusing him of blasphemy, the play met with little controversy or resistance, perhaps due to its obviously low budget. Indeed, Potter later expressed regret that it was “shot on video in three days in an electronic studio on a set that looks as though it’s trembling and about to fall down”. All the same it’s a powerful piece that was later adapted for the stage at the Roundhouse, London, with Frank Finlay as Jesus and a slightly different, less cruel ending, a mere six months later.

But you can watch the original below. 

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