NTL World – Thursday February 26, 2004
THE first UK screening of Mel Gibson's controversial new film The Passion Of The Christ
has provoked a furious response from Britain's Jewish community.
Representatives of the Jewish faith were invited to see the film a month before its nationwide release but many left branding it "disgusting", "deplorable", and likely to incite racial hatred.
Depicting the last 12 hours in the life of Christ, Gibson's blood-drenched epic has been accused of anti-Semitism. It shows the Jewish high priests demanding Christ's crucifixion, then looking on as he is tortured and put to an agonising death.
Neville Nagler, director general of the Jewish Board of Deputies, said: "It would have been better if this film had never been made.
"The glorification of violence and bloodshed and the reinforcement of medieval stereotyping of the Jewish people are extremely dangerous.
"At a time when we are trying to develop co-operation and dialogue within our diverse and multi-cultural society, this film overturns the recent teachings of the Church and is completely unhelpful in fostering closer Jewish-Christian relations."
Lord Janner, former president of the Board of Deputies and now vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, said after the screening: "I hated it. I think it extraordinary that anyone would voluntarily go to see this film.
Leading Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet said: "The cinematography was fantastic, the acting was brilliant - but the content was deplorable in the extreme.
Hollywood star Gibson is a conservative Catholic, a member of a breakaway group which does not accept the Vatican II reforms of 1962 which absolved Jews of responsibility for the crucifixion.
A number of Catholic priests were also among the audience at the Odeon West End in London's Leicester Square, and their take on the film was markedly different.
Father Mark Hackeson, from Poringland, near Norwich, said: "I thought it was an excellent and very moving film. I do not believe it is anti-Semitic -- Jesus himself was Jewish.
"Of course it is violent, but the crucifixion was a very violent event. The important thing is that the message behind the violence is one of love and forgiveness, not of condemnation."
In the US, the film opened to storms of protest last night. Groups ranging from the Black Panthers to animal rights campaigners waved placards to make their views known as it was screened in more than 3,000 cinemas.
According to reports, a middle-aged woman in Wichita, Kansas, died of an apparent heart attack while watching the film's climactic crucifixion scene.
And in California, Christians carried crosses to the cinema and insisted the film was "about a relationship, not a religion."
The Passion Of The Christ
took in more than £10 million on its first day of release.
Last updated 01/03/2004