Interview by Laura Barnett 

Reverend Dr James Walters on The Gospel of Us

Port Talbot's Passion play is in no way a literal version of the Bible, but it asks powerful questions about Christianity and our communities now, finds the LSE's chaplain James Walters
  
  

It would be easy for Christians to get all irate about this film of the Passion play performed in Port Talbot at Easter last year. It's certainly not a faithful representation of biblical events: Michael Sheen, who is from Port Talbot, plays a Christ-like character called the Teacher, fighting a sinister corporation. His father, the God figure, is a slate roofer. But then, like Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, the work is not trying to be faithful.

Passion plays have always been concerned not just with remembering the original, historical story, but with living it out within one's own community. The main themes of the Passion are the stuff of ordinary human life: suffering, betrayal, oppression, and having the courage to overcome them. That's what this film, directed by Dave McKean, and the original Port Talbot play, are all about.

As a priest, I found the film quite powerful: it raises questions about how people find forgiveness and redemption. Sheen's Jesus figure says he has come "to listen"; some Christians may read that as weak, but the Jesus of the Bible does pay attention to those people who are most often ignored; those who are socially unacceptable in various ways. That's exactly what a parish priest does, too: listen to people speak about their lives; enable a community to rediscover some pride in itself.

It seems significant that the final words of the film, and the only words spoken by Sheen's resurrected Teacher, are "It has begun". These words remind us that Christians see the church as the on-going life of Jesus in the world.

I did feel uncomfortable about the fact that the Christ figure is depicted as having amnesia – and, of course, a family – but then, Jesus has always been an enigmatic character. Will the film inspire people to discover more about Christianity? I hope so. At the end of the screening I saw, an extraordinary stillness fell over the cinema. It did seem that people were moved by what they had seen.