Review – In the Footsteps of St. Peter

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, July 3rd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the second installment of a documentary about the men who knew Jesus best.

CLIP: I’m David Suchet and I’m in search of one of the most puzzling characters in history. A simple first century fisherman who somehow became the founding father of the most powerful Christian church on earth. We know him as Saint Peter.

Think of actor David Suchet as a sort of Christian Rick Steves. With his 2015 documentary, In the Footsteps of St. Peter, he guides us cheerily along the highways of the apostle’s life, hitting major points recounted in the New Testament. He also takes us down intriguing little byways, based more on tradition and theory. Along the way, he may stop now and then to sample a local delicacy, like fried tilapia sold in Galilean parts as “Peter’s fish,” or to admire a particularly lovely 11th century fresco.

In other words, it’s a lot more fun than your average take-your-medicine educational documentary. And a lot more likely to leave you with an urge to book plane tickets.

CLIP: All around me is a group from Brazil. They are very fired up and photographing themselves for the family back home. The excitement and enthusiasm of these modern Christians perhaps captures something of the mood of 2000 years ago.

The film blessedly avoids any cheesy reenactments of men in sandals clashing with others in tin helmets. But Suchet is best known for playing Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. So he can’t resist hamming it up in high thespian style now and then. But that’s all part of the charm. We not only hear from experts on the theological significance of certain details of Peter’s life, we experience Suchet’s delight at, for example, casting nets with Galilean fishermen.

CLIP: Fishing is a kind of life. Apart from the modern winches and all that sort of thing, I’m doing what Saint Peter would have done and his brother Andrew and James and John. It’s as though I’m touching a little bit of history.

Like its predecessor, In the Footsteps of St. Paul, In the Footsteps of St. Peter was produced as a mainstream BBC production. This means it doesn’t proselytize. Suchet wrote of the film in a U.K. paper, “I’m not trying to evangelize. I’m just trying to bring to people one of the most extraordinary men that ever lived.” Yet his faith shines through.

When he exclaims in pleasure at how different scholarly Jewish debates are from the kinds of Bible studies he attends, secular audiences may find themselves intrigued to learn more about such gatherings.

CLIP: Being here has really taught me one thing and that is that this is nothing like a Bible study group would be in England. I’ve not seen anything like this. I’ve never seen anything so passionate.

Even more impressive are the experts he consults. None of them actively undermine Biblical narratives, as we’ve seen before with similar History Channel and National Geographic documentaries. A few, like King’s College London history professor, Joan Taylor, even subtly bolster it. Taylor straightforwardly explains that she doesn’t believe Christianity would have been possible without miraculous acts.

CLIP: It says that among the works of the Messiah, Messiah would heal the blind, raise up those who were bowed down, raise the dead, and preach the good news. So Jesus was doing this, proving that He had the power that was expected of the Messiah.

Longtime believers will likely find the second episode more engaging than the first as it leaves the well-worn particulars of Peter’s life described in the New Testament and moves into cautious speculation. Like where and when he might have travelled in Turkey, planting new churches.

That said, some Christians are likely to take issue with a few moments. Like here, where Suchet speculates about the age of the Cappadocian mountains.

CLIP: There are some places on this earth that don’t quite seem to belong here. They’re like fragments of an alien planet. The whole region around Gorem in Turkish Cappadocia is just one of those places. It’s the most extraordinary landscape, shaped by volcanic activity for the past 10 million years.

But overall Suchet makes such an amiable guide in a good-faith effort to shed light on the Apostle Peter’s life, few are likely to regret having followed along in his footsteps.

(Photo/Amazon Prime)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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