List Film

Risen (2 stars)

Joseph Fiennes heads up a biblical ‘epic’ taking a fresh look at the resurrection story


Timed to coincide with Easter, this distractingly unspectacular sword-and-sandals ‘epic’ from director Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld) offers a twist on the traditionally told story of the resurrection. Although it provides a way in through the probing gaze of a non-believer – a Roman tribune called Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) – the understandably po-faced, yet unforgivably mawkish approach to the presentation of miracles means that religious conviction may still be a pre-requisite for audience enjoyment.

Still, Fiennes acts as a glue of sorts as he turns in an earnest, often nuanced performance that somewhat revives his star potential – that is, when he’s managing to resist the urge to smoulder. The film offers a surprisingly contemplative look at the life of a reluctant enforcer in wincingly barbaric times, in particular showing how he’s affected by the grim business of crucifixion. Regretfully, Harry Potter’s Tom Felton has little to do as Clavius’ right-hand man Lucius – although he threatens to go full Draco Malfoy as matters escalate, which would at least have been interesting – while Peter Firth’s hunger for scenery is better employed here as Pontius Pilate than it was in Spooks.

If Cliff Curtis is of Māori rather than Middle Eastern descent, it’s refreshing to see a dark-skinned Messiah and he’s plenty soulful, but the disciples are a slightly mad bunch, with Stephen Hagan’s manically grinning Bartholomew particularly comical; between that lot and the drunken soldiers charged with guarding Christ’s tomb and the men who queue up to identify prostitute Mary Magdalene (a permanently tearful María Botto), things do get a bit ‘Life of Brian’, while Horrible Histories may be an irresistible point of comparison for the younger generation. Bizarre bookends and an inability to conceal its modest budget with tight framing and focused storytelling also wind up adding to the film’s woes, leaving Risen too inconsistent to make good on its, admittedly, honourable intentions.

General release from Fri 18 Mar.


  • 2 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 107 min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Kevin Reynolds
  • Cast: Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth
  • UK release: 18 March 2016

Roman tribune Clavius (Fiennes) is a reluctant enforcer charged with investigating the disappearance of Jesus (Curtis)'s body from his tomb. Po-faced yet mawkish religious film with an earnest, nuanced performance from Fiennes; good to see a dark-skinned Messiah, but it's all too inconsistent to be convincing.


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