One of the people in Scripture that really intrigues me is Barabbas. Not a lot is mentioned about Barabbas save that he was a notorious bandit, who could have possibly been a revolutionary, or zealot, and that he was saved from crucifixion when he was released from Roman captivity instead of Jesus. Nothing more is mentioned of this man, but I have often wondered if Barabbas’ brief encounter with Jesus made a difference in his life.
This miniseries is the third filmed adaptation of the 1950 Nobel Prize-winning novel by Swedish author Pär Lagerkvist, and follows the life of Barabbas from a few years before the death of Christ until some years after. Billy Zane (Titanic, Sniper) plays Barabbas well – typically Barabbas is portrayed as nothing more than a brutal thug, but Zane is likable as the man who, according to tradition, had a penchant for loose women, money, and violence. I do wish that the filmmakers had taken some time to develop more of his brutal side, but did like that the Barabbas presented in this miniseries is not simply a one dimensional villain. Instead he is a much more complex character and while shown to be brutal and violent, he is also shown to have a caring and compassionate side to his character.
Barabbas’ story begins about three years before his encounter with Jesus. Barabbas is a man renown throughout Israel as being a bad tempered fellow who gets what he wants or else! Storming through life like a freight train, Barabbas understands that he probably doesn’t have long for this world and so makes it his goal to get all he can out of life before his inevitable run in with the grim reaper. But then he meets and falls for Ester, a young slave who spends her days working as a cleaner/housekeeper in a brothel. After securing some money he buys Ester and after a little while sets her free so she can go and follow a teacher by the name of Jesus.
After a series of run in’s with the Romans, Barabbas finds himself joining a group of zealots who are preparing themselves for a bloody war against their Roman oppressors when the coming Messiah shows up to lead them. However, Barabbas’ intention is not freedom for his people but financial gain. To make things a little more interesting Ester, who is now a fully fledged follower of Jesus, begins to show some feelings for Barabbas, and they eventually end up in a relationship. Still Barabbas steadfastly refuses to believe that the man Ester follows is the long awaited Messiah.
Part one ends with Barabbas’ arrest by the Romans and his being set free again with Jesus taking his place upon the cross.
Part two begins with the crucifixion of Christ followed by his resurrection. Barabbas then sets out to find out the truth about what really happened to Jesus’ body, and what he finds begins to play on his mind. At the same time the Romans step up their efforts to crush the small group of people who are busying themselves in spreading the saving and hope-filled message of Jesus. When Ester falls victim to this religious persecution, Barabbas once again takes up the sword in a quest for vengeance. Blinded by hatred, Barabbas once again falls into the hands of the Romans and eventually ends up becoming a spy for them. Then he meets a small group of Christians in Rome who show him what it truly means to live by faith.
I really liked Barabbas and found it to be enjoyable and very poignant… especially with the Easter holidays fast approaching. As this is a made for TV miniseries the quality of the production was really good – the sound and picture are clear, the make-up is brilliant (especially the “Jesus after his scourging” scenes), and the cinematography was excellent throughout. The soundtrack isn’t great but adequate for a TV movie (although I was a little unsure of the heavy metal guitars used in some of the fight scenes). The screenplay was a little convoluted at times, but for the most part was well written.
It was nice to see yet another Biblically based film under the directing skills of Roger Young, a man who’s familiar with the genre as he has directed several other great Biblical films such as Jesus, Paul the Apostle, Solomon, Joseph, and Moses.
The acting was good for the most part. Billy Zane really did a good job in breathing life into Barabbas. I thought he was a great choice for the titular character as Mr Zane can be menacing when he wants to be. My only problem was that Barabbas wasn’t presented as bad enough, instead he was somewhat likable from the start. I would have liked to have seen his character develop slowly throughout the film – from unlikable villain to unlikely hero.
As the film was filmed in Italy the rest of the cast is predominately made up of Italian actors. Filippo Nigro is believably commanding as Pontius Pilate, Anna Valle plays Pilate’s long-suffering wife Claudia, Cristiana Capotondi plays the child-like Ester, and Marco Foschi gets a little screen time as an interesting Jesus.
As the film was made in Italy with mainly Italian actors, some of the voices have been overdubbed into English. I didn’t find the overdubbing overly distracting, but some of the “American-English” voices were a little trying at times.
I was surprised that, for a miniseries about to be shown on secular TV, how much pro-Christian content there was in Barabbas. Christianity is spoken about positively, Jesus is presented as the Savoir, and people are shown as faithfully taking God’s saving message to the world, even though it costs many of them their lives. In fact, the Gospel message is really the backbone of the story and is what drives this miniseries. So BIG kudos in this department.
Though not as good as the epic cinematic 1961 version starring Anthony Quinn, this TV miniseries of Barabbas is definitely worth watching. It’s well made and entertaining, and offers the viewer a look into the possible life of the man who experienced firsthand the grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus.
An alternative Easter movie that uses select events in the Gospel as a backdrop for the largely fictitious story of the man who played an intricate, yet brief role in the Easter story, this two part miniseries based on the novel by Pär Lagerkvist is a thought-provoking and entertaining tale of faith, hope, love, and ultimately redemption.
Christian St John – Christian Film Guide Editor
|Christian Film Guide Ratings for Barabbas (2013)|
Violence: As in many Biblically based movies there is a fair amount of violence in this film, but it’s not overly gory. Some of the violence includes: Quite a lot of fighting which includes hand to hand combat, as well as knife and sword fights with some deaths by stabbing and slicing; prisoners are whipped and beaten; a pregnant woman falls down a flight of stairs and loses the baby; a woman is stoned to death; quite few people are seen crucified; Jesus is seen all bloodied after his scourging and is forced to carry the cross through the streets; a dying man is tied to a stake; some Gladiator violence; a body is seen after he hangs himself.
Sex/Nudity: Man and woman sleep together though nothing is shown. Some scenes take place in a brothel.
Language: SOB; bas**rd, whore.
Drugs/Alcohol: Drinking of wine.
Faith/Spiritual Content: Talk of God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Scriptures, and Christians. Faith is shown positively as are love, forgiveness, peace, and hope. Jesus is a central character throughout Barabbas, as is Pontius Pilate. Christians are shown sharing the Gospel even though it costs many their lives. The early church is shown. People pray. Lazarus is seen coming back from the dead. Barabbas contains a lot of arguments for the resurrection of Christ. People are shown as being changed by Jesus and a few of the main characters become believers.
Main Themes: Jesus, God, Barabbas, love, faith, hope, change, beginning of the church.
Christian watched his first movie at 3 years old and since then has watched literally thousands of movies. With a love for both God and movies, Christian launched Christian Film Guide in 2012, and although it's a relatively new website you could say that it's been almost 40 years in the making! About Christian More reviews by Christian