WASHINGTON, D.C. — The new biblical epic “Resurrection” is the kind of movie where “families can get together” to watch it, said one of its producers, Roma Downey, still best known for her on-camera role in the television series “Touched by an Angel.”
Families will indeed have that chance, as “Resurrection” debuts in streaming form March 27 on the Discovery+ subscription service.
Downey, who grew up a Catholic in Northern Ireland, said she can remember as a child gathering around the telly to watch movies on Easter like “The Ten Commandments” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”
“Resurrection,” at one hour and 35 minutes, is fairly compact for a biblical epic. In fact, you could watch it three times in the time ABC has allotted for its Holy Saturday screening of “The Ten Commandments” — plus umpteen commercials — April 3.
“We’ve been able to condense the story and I don’t think we’ve lost any of the emotional punch it deliver. It comes together so beautifully,” Downey told Catholic News Service during a March 16 phone interview from California.
She also wants audiences to focus on the reason for the season. “While we all like Easter bunnies and chocolate — I wouldn’t refuse! — I think it’s important we remember the story of what Easter is about,” Downey said.
Reprising his portrayal of Jesus is Juan Pablo Di Pace. He had played Christ in “A.D.: The Bible Continues,” which also was produced by Downey and her husband, reality-show producer Mark Burnett.
The Argentine-born Di Pace, who was born in 1979 — one year after St. John Paul II was elevated to the papacy — is “amazing, and he does such a great job with this, and he’s become such a dear friend to Mark and myself,” Downey said. “In the crucifixion scene, we flew his mother in. His mother is a painter of religious art. One of her pieces is at the Vatican.”
In fact, she added, Di Pace’s mother can be seen at the foot of the cross in “Resurrection.”
Other actors of note in the cast include Greta Scacchi as Jesus’ mother and Joanne Whalley as Claudia, the wife of Pilate. Whalley also played Priscilla in the 2018 biblical film “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” starring Jim Caviezel and Olivier Martinez.
It’s no spoiler alert to disclose what happens in “Resurrection,” since pretty much all of Christianity already knows. Dramatically, though, the title event happens 40 minutes into the movie. That leaves some time to fill.
The movie then takes in Jesus appearing to his disciples after he leaves the tomb, his ascension to heaven, the coming of the Holy Spirit in the “upper room,” and the healing of a lame-from-birth beggar at the temple in Jerusalem. There’s also time to fill in the motivations and machinations of Pilate, Caiaphas and Caiaphas’ wife.
“Resurrection” also had theological advisers to guide the script. “We don’t tackle anything like that without people like that. It’s too important,” Downey told CNS. “I’m a person of faith but I’m not a theologian.”
She added, “We haven’t taken huge liberties with this important story.”
While Scripture is seen as timeless, some of the dialogue in “Resurrection” may have to some viewers the effect of speaking about a year of upheaval in medical, political and societal circles.
“We’re all needing some sort of resurrection in our own lives right now. We’ve all been in our tombs, we’ve all been isolated in our own ways by this pandemic,” Downey said. But “there’s been beauty in it, too. I certainly feel in my own family a closeness to my own family, and I think it’s put everything into a different perspective. I think there is now light at the end of the tunnel as the vaccines start to roll out.”
She added, “I think the film can be seen through piercing hearts and the eyes that have lived thorough this year. There’s a message of hope that this film can offer. And we need hope more than ever. That was our intention — rushing to get our movie ready for such a time as this. That there was something hopeful on television, that we could share together.”
Viewers also will be able to note a transition from biblical times to the present day, as a flood of images including those of Pope Francis, a kneeling woman in a church clutching a rosary and an aerial view of a large statue of Jesus fill the screen.
“We just started playing around with different ideas of how to end the film — bring the story up close and personal for people,” Downey said. The montage, she added, serves as “an amazing reminder that just from a handful of disciples we are now over 2 billion Christians in the world.”