NBC’s “Mary, Mother of Jesus” is the mother of all Biblepics. A genuinely captivating take on the life of Jesus, pic comes at things from something of a Lifetime-esque perspective. That is, it presents the tale through the eyes of Mary, focusing on her pride, her passion and — naturally — her trauma upon her son’s crucifixion at the hands of the Romans.
Nevertheless, exec producers Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Bobby Shriver exhibit great passion and care in crafting such an uncommonly inspiring rendering of the spiritual perennial. “Mary” is genuinely moving, never sailing over the top to drive home its plentiful religious points.
Sharing credit with the Shrivers for the achievement are Swedish actress Pernilla August (who turns in a heart-rending, graceful perf as Mary) and helmer Kevin Connor, whose control over his players and grasp of the material are consistently superior. August, who was a standout portraying Anakin Skywalker’s mother in “Star Wars, Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace,” hits all of the right notes while establishing a mesmerizing presence.
Albert Ross’ sharply focused teleplay (with an assist from John Goldsmith) gets a helping hand at the outset from this uniquely honest disclaimer: “While dramatic license has been taken, we believe this film reflects the spirit and historical significance of the Biblical story of Mary and Jesus.” In other words, theologians, don’t get all crazy, because this doesn’t claim accuracy.
Film frames Mary’s story from her own childhood, her visit from God and the subsequent Immaculate Conception, as well as Mary’s nurturing of her son from birth through resurrection. Jesus is played as a peace-loving youth (by 14-year-old Toby Bailiff) and a destiny-driven young adult (nice work from Christian Bale, who brings to Jesus hunky, Matthew McConaughey-style looks).
The climactic moments of “Mary, Mother of Jesus” are played to wrenching effect, particularly the death of Jesus’ father Joseph (David Threlfall) and the crucifixion itself.
What truly distinguishes the production — besides some exquisitely understated period details, fine acting and sumptuous location work in Budapest — is its very simplicity. It never falls prey to the kind of overheated rapture so common to Biblical epics, illustrating instead the skepticism of the masses and hostility among those in power that would ultimately prove Jesus’ undoing.
Maria Hrudy’s winning costume design, as well as all of the tech credits, prove to be on the money.