Screen Pilates: Peter Firth

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Continuing our series on screen portrayals of Pilate that I began in 2011 during Holy Week.    The posts on portrayals of Pilate by Rod Steiger, Richard Boone, Barry Dennen, Hristov Shopov, Telly Savalas, Frank Thring, Stephen Russell, Greg Hicks, Cyril Richard, Stephen Moyer, Dennis King, Keith Mitchell and Leif Erickson may be viewed  here, here, here, here  here , here, here, here, here , here , here, here and here.

Veteran actor Peter Firth portrays Pilate as a worried man in the currently released movie Risen (2016), afraid that if the body of Christ cannot be found unrest from His followers will occur on the eve of a visit to Judaea by the Emperor Tiberius.  The visit of Emperor Tiberius is a fictional device to heighten the drama I assume.  At the time of the execution of Christ, Tiberius was in decadent retirement on the island of Capri.  The historical Pilate had good reason to fear the wrath of Tiberius, as he was a protégé of Roman strongman Sejanus, who Tiberius had executed on October 18, 31 AD, a year of two, likely, before Christ was put to death.  The Jewish philosopher Philo, an older contemporary of Christ born in 25 BC and who would live to 50 AD, noted that Sejanus had helped foster anti-Semitic policies throughout the Empire, and that Tiberius had repudiated these policies upon the fall of Sejanus, and commanded that good relations with the Jewish communities throughout the Roman Empire be the policy of the Roman government.  This of course would have put Pilate on the spot, since he had a generally bad relationship with the Jews.  Much that is obscure about Pilate’s attitude toward Christ is made clear if Philo is accurate in his statement.  Why the screenwriters of Risen did not use these facts, rather than inventing a fictional visit of Tiberius, is beyond me.

In any event, Firth gives a good performance as his Pilate grapples with the fact that in regard to Christ he is encountering something that goes far beyond the mundane matters that have concerned him as Prefect of Judaea.

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7 Comments

  1. I’m looking forward to seeing this movie. Until I do, my top “Pilate” picks have been:

    #1-Hristov Shopov
    #2-Rod Steiger.

  2. Why the screenwriters of Risen did not use these facts, rather than inventing a fiction visit of Tiberius, is beyond me.

    Probably because it would have ended up sidetracking the story too much trying to establish everything and bring the audience up to speed in a limited run time movie. Not that I’m still disappointed at times by the lack of full background.

    Though maybe a short run tv series or miniseries would be best to get the audience on the same page as the characters of the story. People will grasp the political intricacies for Game of Thrones, let’s HBO up the Bible! (yeah I know that project will never get off the ground)

  3. Also because most people have heard of Tiberius, but not Sejanus.
    .
    And speaking of HBOing up the Bible, anybody watch the now cancelled Of Kings and Prophets?

  4. I know you have already highlighted Barry Dennen, the Pilate from Jesus Christ SuperStar who is great but did you know there was another production in 2000?
    I think the Pilate is that production is amazing.
    Here is a link:

  5. Okay, that link is to the beginning of the show. I copied and pasted the Trial Before Pilate link. Don’t know why the wrong one is there.

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