Screen Pilates: Stephen Russell


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 and Frank Thring may be read here, here, here, here  here and here.

Stephen Russell portrays Pilate in The Gospel of John (2003) which is a straight forward no frills presentation of the Gospel of John.  As in the Gospel of John Pilate is shown in the film as first curious about Jesus and then sympathetic to Jesus.  He attempts to save Jesus by giving the mob a choice between Jesus and the bandit Barabbas.  When that fails he presents Jesus after He has been beaten and utters the phrase Ecce Homo, Behold the Man.

Pilate stands in for Fallen Humanity in this depiction.  Wanting to do good, but allowing cowardice and the concern for earthly vanities to sway him from the question that he posed to Truth Incarnate:  Truth?  What is Truth?  In viewing this Pilate we see why it was necessary for Christ to die on the Cross as humanity, with the best of intentions, is doomed without the grace brought into the world by the Resurrection.  Pilate allows his terror of his loyalty to Caesar being suspect to overcome his desire for the Truth, something that is sadly familiar still to the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve.

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  1. I would like to place a challenge to you — analyse the portrayal of the Procurator in the TV adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita.” It’s quite different from the Gospel standard, but well known to Russians, as it’s arguably the greatest Russian-language novel of the 20th Century. The Pilate in Vladimir Bortko’s Rossiya TV version was Kirill Lavrov, a top Russian actor (the entire cast was “A-list” of Russian TV and movie actors) A complete playlist of the TV version starts at this link, and Pilate’s first appearance in this version is at this link. It has English subtitles, and the text of those titles was cribbed from one of the leading English translations of the work.

    Anyway, it’s a unique portrayal of Pilate. Take a look at it. What do you think?

  2. I read the novel the Master and Margarita when it was first translated into English. Magical Realism Russian style! A beautiful satire on Stalinist Russia, a la a combination of Faust, The Grand Inquisitor with some Thirties Slapstick tossed in. I hadn’t seen the film version before and the interplay between Christ and Pilate is interesting although it has nothing to do with the Gospels. Pilate plays the role of the Grand Inquisitor in an homage to that great section from The Brothers Karamazov. The world weariness and the cynicism I suspect is probably an accurate reflection of the historical Pilate. Mr. Lavrov did a fine job, and it is a pity that I haven’t had the time to explore Russian cinema much beyond the forties.

  3. Stephen Russell’s Pilate shows reasonable wonder, and fear, accurate to the gospel account. (Now where’d the evangelists get inside info? Hard to believe a Roman governor wearing his emotions on his tunic sleeve.) This Pilate does feel very much like “us,” more so, imo, than the sneering, haughty, noxious versions. Thankfully most of “us” don’t have to worry about our families being slaughtered if we tick off our employer.

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