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 and Telly Savalas may be read here, here, here, here and here.
The late Frank Thring, an Australian actor, had the distinction of playing both Pilate and Herod Antipas in major films, Pilate in Ben Hur (1959) and Herod Antipas in King of Kings (1961).
In Ben Hur we get a glimpse of the backstory of Pilate. Thring portrays Pilate as an urbane Roman aristocrat dismayed that he is being sent to govern bleak and hot Judea. At a party given by Arrius to anounce his adoption of Ben Hur, go here to view the video, Pilate indicates his dismay at the prospect. After Ben Hur wins his famous chariot race, Pilate cynically crowns Ben Hur as the “one true God” for the moment, of the people. Go here to watch the clip.
In an interview after the race Pilate attempts to convince Ben Hur to remember that he is the son of Arrius and to be content with the vengeance he has inflicted on Messala, dead as a result of injuries sustained in the chariot race:
I crossed this floor in spoken friendship, as I would speak to Arrius. But when I go up those stairs I become the hand of Caesar, ready to crush all those who challenge his authority. There are too many small men of envy and ambition who try to disrupt the government of Rome. You have become the victor and hero to these people. They look to you, their one true god as I called you. If you stay here, you will find yourself part of this tragedy.
Ben Hur chooses his people over Rome, but Hur seeing Christ on the cross at the end of the film causes the hate he has for Rome to drop from him. Pilate, unknown to him, reaches his goal of neutralizing Hur as a potential threat to Rome by condemning Jesus, a very small fraction of the impact upon the world that the assignment of Pilate to Judea had, and something of which Pilate may very well have been completely ignorant of for the remainder of his life.