A very British Passion for Judea

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The Passion, BBC1 Gavin And Stacey, BBC3

THE writing credit was "By Frank Deasy" which seemed a little odd – what, no "adapted from an original story by, er, God"? Sounds like He needs to get a better agent.

Still, perhaps Deasy deserved the credit because his version of **The Passion yanked the Easter Story out of parable and plonked it firmly into the context of Roman Judea, with realistic characters and setting.

You could practically feel the crush of people crowded into the city of Jerusalem for Passover week, pilgrims and traders, lepers and locals crammed into a few narrow streets. It gave the drama a feeling of claustrophobia as well as of everyone waiting for something to happen, for trouble to explode.

James Nesbitt – not an actor I normally care for, I must admit – excellently portrayed Pontius Pilate as a sort of tough police chief with orders from his superiors to keep a lid on things. "Emperor Tiberius wants a peaceful Judea so the riches of Syria can pass safely through on their way to Rome," he briefed his deputy, cynically. Meanwhile the High Priests feared a Roman crackdown and a challenge to their own authority. The arrival of a Nazareth preacher and his people was an unpredictable element, which made them nervous.

Playing Jesus is probably the most difficult role possible for an actor (along with playing Sylvester Stallone's love interest). Joseph Mawle does a decent job as Jesus the man, as he has a gentleness which works, but he doesn't quite convey the spiritual dimension, which may be an impossible task, or may come out more in the next two episodes. He's rooted to humanity also by his mother Mary, Penelope Wilton interestingly giving her a slightly bitter, if resigned, edge.

As usual with these things, the disciples' specially grown straggly beards don't really hide their white, British roots, though perhaps it doesn't matter too much, as this version of the story – as they all have to be – is very much a version for our times. By which I don't mean just the modern language, but its focus on the political and social context that gives all the characters a clear reason for what they do – except, and this is where the mystery comes in, I guess, Jesus himself.

This could be seen as fence-sitting: viewers will interpret the story according to their own beliefs and prejudices. But as a drama, this certainly worked, with an unusual amount of tension for such a familiar story.

From the sublime to the ridiculous – well, more silly, really. I spent most of the first series of **Gavin And Stacey wanting to like it more than I actually did. The idea and the characters were nice, but it was so sickeningly cute. Now returned from their honeymoon to their overly-close circle of friends and family, the young couple are still dopey and loved-up.

It just all seems strained at times: Alison Steadman, Rob Brydon and Julia Davis are all so desperately, self-consciously "Acting" all the time that their characters fall into caricature. And a farcical restaurant meal where everyone ended up leaving the table one by one and getting involved in a crisis meeting in the toilets – each new arrival having to be filled in on the situation – never became as funny as it probably sounded on paper.

Ruth Jones, as Stacey's acerbic friend Nessa, had the best sly line, revealing that she used to drive a tourbus for The Who until "finding out" something about Pete Townshend: "I said it to his face," she said dryly, without any further explanation, "'Where's the book?'"