MARY MAGDALENE is a truly beautiful, nuanced, finely acted and imagined film that genuinely does something new with a hackneyed story. It stars Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene - not a reformed whore and temptress of popular myth, but a thoughtful, caring woman who has the fortitude to escape an arranged marriage to follow an inspirational leader. She becomes his companion and befriends the apostles - but there are no leering gazes or temptations. Rather a quieter tension about interpreting Christ's message and legacy. To Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), she is a distraction. His aim is worldly power in Jerusalem. For Mary, the meaning of Christianity is compassion and personal kindness. Somewhere in this miscommunication is a tragic and awful misunderstanding on the part of Judas.
Director Garth Davis (LION) has created a quiet film of great passions with a studious script by Helen Edmundson and Phillippa Goslett taking back seat to imaginatively created moments. Early on we see a terrified Mary exorcised in a lake at night by her father and brother because she refuses to marry. It's a stunning imaginative invention. Later, when Christ (Joaquin Phoenix) wrestles with a possessed man he seems himself in reflection. And is there anything as heartbreaking as Tahar Rahim's Judas on his knees begging Christ to resurrect his dead daughter? All of this carries an emotional weight because it stands in contrast to the muted dun-coloured palette of Greig Fraser's photography, the simplicity of the exterior landscapes, and the austerity of Johan Johannsson's score. But at the moments when Davis uses CGI and set pieces - he is also superb. The rendering of turn of the millennium Jerusalem from a distance is quite breath-taking - as is his evocation of a temple crowded with people, money-lenders and blood sacrifices.
MARY MAGDALENE has a running time of 120 minutes.