“I expected more,” muses Mauritius, the Roman prefect of the Mamertine Prison, critically eying the frail, bald-headed, bewhiskered prisoner standing unsteadily before him.
Perhaps Mauritius is looking for some sign of the charisma and commanding presence that would mark a powerful leader of an infamous cult blamed for burning half the city — or possibly something to warrant the rumors of the prisoner’s supernatural powers and otherworldly character.
Either way, Mauritius wouldn’t have been the first to be less than impressed by the unimposing figure cut by Paul of Tarsus. (Per 2 Corinthians 10:10, Paul seems to have had a rap for being less powerful in person than his mighty letters would suggest.)
The year is A.D. 67, about a dozen years into the notorious reign of Nero, widely deemed responsible for the Great Fire of Rome and said to have scapegoated Rome’s Christian community, not just for the fire, but for hatred of humanity.
For this they were tortured and executed in heinous ways, including being nailed to crosses and set ablaze at night. (The depiction of the persecution is drawn from the Roman historian Tacitus; an opening title tacitly supports the late folk etymology of Nero’s human pyrotechnics giving rise to the term “Roman candle.”)
Paul, Apostle of Christ offers a compelling account on the last days of St. Paul — played with gravel-voiced authority by James Faulkner (Game of Thrones; X-Men: First Class) — in a dungeon in the Mamertine Prison, facing execution for treason. It’s not the unmade epic about the life of Paul of Tarsus many would like to see, but what it is is worthwhile in its own right.
Writer-director Andrew Hyatt (Full of Grace) interweaves Paul’s story with two secondary story strands, one concerning Rome’s underground Christian community and the other involving the prefect Mauritius (Olivier Martinez) and his family.
Tying the story strands together is Paul’s old traveling companion, Luke the physician (Jim Caviezel). St. Luke slips quietly into Rome to visit Paul in prison and to bring from him some word of encouragement and guidance to the Roman Christians and the larger Christian world, in the process becoming entangled with Mauritius and his family.
The Full of Grace filmmaker talks about the challenges of bringing Scripture to life and the problems with many faith-based films.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.