Universal Pictures’ new Biblical drama Mary Magdalene brings a unique and fascinating character to the fore and places her at the heart of the greatest origin story ever told.
In Philippine cinemas March 21, Mary Magdalene is directed by Garth Davis (Lion) and stars Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice).
Set in the Holy Land in the first century, Mary Magdalene is the story of a young woman who leaves her small fishing village and family to join a new movement. Inspired by its charismatic leader, Jesus of Nazareth (Joaquin Phoenix), and his teachings, Mary (Rooney Mara) sets out with the disciples on the journey to Jerusalem, where she finds herself at the centre of the founding story of Christianity.
The story of Jesus Christ has been told in so many different ways and has aroused such passion, in art and culture and within the worlds of historical and religious scholarship as well as in film. And it’s a story so rich and so open to multiple interpretations that it was unsurprising that Mary Magdalene producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman, while contemplating the notion of approaching a familiar story in a new and original way, started to consider retelling it from a different perspective. It was an archeological discovery that planted the seed in their minds.
“Obviously, the story of Jesus is one that has been told on numerous occasions by different film makers,” says Canning. “The discovery of fragments of parchment in Egypt and Greece which were claiming to be the gospel of Mary Magdalene sparked the idea that it would be interesting to tell the story of a woman within the biblical stories.
“Every generation approaches their own retelling or re-imagining of stories based on the contemporary time,” continues Canning. “If you’re making a film you’ve got to have some sort of contemporary resonance, otherwise it’s not going to find an audience. We felt there was room to tell the story of Mary Magdalene – that the female perspective of this particular story of the life and death of Jesus Christ was a new way in to that story and that it would also shine a light on contemporary issues.”
“There’s always a certain amount of responsibility that you have when you tell stories that are incredibly important to people. But you’ve got to trust the script, your film-maker and the actors, that they’re going to bring something new and fresh to it. We feel like we need to acknowledge that this is an important story for people, and so therefore tell it in the best way possible.”
The initial script was written by acclaimed playwright Helen Edmundson who came up with the blueprint and drew together all the relevant texts into a narrative, explains Canning, adding “Philippa Goslett subsequently worked on the script to bring a filmic edge and a little bit more dynamic between the disciples and Mary herself to really bring it to life.”
Goslett’s desire to right a centuries’ old wrong drew her to the project. “I’ve always been very interested in the story of Jesus and felt that what happened to Mary Magdalene and her identity over the centuries was a travesty,” she says. “Here was an opportunity to give a voice to someone who had been silenced for so long. The really exciting idea about looking at the Jesus story from a female point of view was what would that change, how would the key moments from that journey sing out in different ways, and ultimately how could Jesus’s message be experienced in a different way from a female point of view.”
Producer Emile Sherman concludes, “Mary Magdalene had been marginalised for centuries and we wanted to restore her to her rightful place at the centre of the Jesus story, as a key apostle. The story we are telling is really one that goes to the heart of all religions, and in fact to all humanity. Mary recognises that the ‘kingdom’, or whatever utopia we are striving for, needs to start within ourselves. Our spirit lies within, and it sits in the same place as love and kindness. Mary’s message is as revolutionary today as it has ever been, and it is one we hope will resonate strongly.”
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