listed here deal with a variety of religious themes and may be of use
in the classroom. Themes are indicated and in many cases helpful clips
are suggested. In fact using clips may be a lot more effective in education
than showing whole films, which take up several classes, dissipating the
impact. Also, some of the films may not in their entirety be very appropriate,
but may contain some clips that will illustrate a point nicely.
is an inspiring film that tells the story on the campaign to abolish
slavery in England, focussing on the efforts of William Wilberforce
to get an anti-slavery bill through Parliament. It moves slowly,
goes back and forward in time quite a bit, but still holds the attention.
There are so many clips that could be used in religion class, and
not just on slavery and justice issues. For example there's an early
sequence where Wilberforce tries to discern his vocation in life
- torn between the work of God and his political activities. Eventually
he believes he can do both by campaigning against slavery. Other
useful clips include a scene where he meets his mentor John Newton,
writer of the song Amazing Grace and a former slave ship
owner who is now haunted (metaphorically) by the ghosts of the slaves
he carried. The representation of slavery is not that graphic, but
there are descriptions in another early scene where a group of like
minded friends gather at table to discuss the issue with Wilberforce,
and later when some well off citizens are given a close quarters
experience of a slave ship. The scenes where he addresses parliament
should also be useful in holding students' attention and introducing
Execution of Private Slovik (1974)
I saw this film many years ago and it made a lasting impact. It's
the true story of Eddie Slovik (played superbly by Martin Sheen) the
only American soldier to be executed since the Civil War - he was
shot for desertion in World War Two. It is simple basic and hard hitting,
and as moving as when it was first made. It is not in the least heavy
handed in it's message, and some viewers may even find Slovik a somewhat
unsympathetic character. Two scenes in particular are useful for class
- around the middle of the film the chaplain talks to the firing squad
about the morality of it all, and towards the end there is Slovik's
final experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He prays on the
way to execution, but this scene is tough going and may not be suitable
for younger classes at least. And without the context of the full
film the emotional impact wouldn't be the same.
For All Seasons, A
Oscar winning account of the conflict between Henry VIII and St Thomas
Moore. Paul Schofield is outstanding as Moore and script by Robert
Bolt is intelligent. Students may find the full film hard to concentrate
on, but there is an excellent scene in the jail near the end where
Moore's family try to persuade him to capitulate and be set free -
enough here for a few classes on morality and standing up for your
principles. This is followed by the dramatic courtroom scene which
should hold the students' attention big time.
Another literate screenplay by Robert Bolt in this sweeping epic of
idealistic Jesuit missionaries in South America at the time of the
Conquistadores. I've seen the historical accuracy questioned on some
details, and the portrayal of the conniving Church authorities is
rather stereotyped, but Ray McAnally does humanise the Cardinal somewhat.
The main characters, played superbly by Jeremy Irons and Robert de
Niro are complex and fascinating. One of the best scenes for classroom
use, especially when dealing with the topic of reconciliation, is
early in the film when the priest (Irons) challenges de Niro's devastated
slave trader (he has killed his brother over a woman) to design a
fitting penance. This is followed by a beautiful sequence, mostly
visual, when he carries his burden, literally and metaphorically,
to the people he has enslaved. The full film is probably too long
for classroom use, the violence is quite strong and there is some
Passion of the Christ (2004)
Mel Gibson's controversial portrayal of the Passion is recently
out on video/DVD. Some will have qualms about showing the whole
film in a school context, even in senior classes, the opening scenes
in the Garden of Gethsemane might be useful to illustrate the theme
English film by campaigning director Ken Loach. This one features
an unemployed man's efforts to get the best gear for his daughter's
First Communion, despite advice to the contrary from his local priest,
played with genuine sympathy by Tom Hickey. It's funny and poignant
by turns as the loving parent tries to maintain the family dignity.
Two scenes are striking - one where the father struggles to explain
the Eucharist, and one where he goes to the priest for a late night
Confession. The film has an over-15 cert and there are a few F-Words,
but it's heart is in the right place.
Earnest and effective biography of Bishop Romero of El Salvador. Raul
Julia is excellent in the title role, showing the bishop moving from
academic to concerned social reformer as he experiences first hand
the sufferings of his people. The secondary characters aren't as well
drawn, some being there merely to represent different points of view.
Two scenes of particular use in the classroom are when Romero comes
to retrieve the Eucharist from a church occupied by the military -
this is tense and shocking in a way; there's also the last few minutes
when we hear Romero speaking out against the repression on the radio
as the assassin prepares to kill him and does, as the Bishop is saying
Mass. The film has an over-15 cert which is about right.
Scholl: The Final Days
A striking about a young student, motivated by her Christian faith,
campaigning against the Nazis in Germany during the war. The religious
element is there, but subtly integrated. In German, with English
subtitles, it is riveting as we see her interrogated by the German
police, and all the more poignant as it is based on real events.
Julia Jentsch does a brilliant job in the main role. Despite the
setting there is no graphic violence, but there is plenty of tension.
One scene of particular use in class starts with Sophie praying
one night in prison, leading to a scene with her interrogator where
conscience is discussed.
This is a weird one. Keith Gordon plays Ernie Blick, an imaginative
young inventor who claims to have invented a TV that can tune in Heaven.
He also collects distorted crucifixes from the crucifix factory where
he works! Food for discussion there. I've heard people claiming that
it's blasphemous and others accusing it of ramming religion down their
throats. It's certainly intriguing. The fact that it's hard to categorise
was illustrated when the merchandising for the video version sought
to portray it as science fiction, but it has been well received by
the critics. The tone is ambiguous - are we meant to take it all seriously
or is it just delicious irony? One of the best scenes for classroom
use is when Ernie reveals his invention to his friends and family
- the scene should hold students as its rich in anticipation - we
don't know until this moment what the great invention is. It could
be a useful component in discussions on the afterlife, and it has
resonances of the Tower of Babel story. The relationship between Ernie
and a childhood friend (quirky but moving performance by Amanda Plummer)
is platonic but very warm. There are about two F-words and some minor
vulgarities in the film, which received an over-15 cert on video.
Director: Mark Romanek
Were Soldiers (2002)
Though it's a graphic war film, this account of a battle in the early
days of the Vietnam War may be of interest. Mel Gibson plays a real
life caring commander, whose main interest is the safety of his men,
who find themselves pinned down after landing unaware into a huge
base of Vietnamese soldiers. He is a spiritual person, prays a lot,
and seems to be genuine about it, though in one early scene his prayers
in church with a fellow soldier falls rather short of respect for
the enemy. However the overall viewpoint of the film is respectful
to the Vietnamese soldiers. There are also some moving scenes as word
of casualties arrives back at this company's base in the USA.
Walk to Remember (2002)
Here's a novelty - a trendy teen film whose heroine is genuinely religious.
The opening is dramatic and the film holds the attention with its
fine charaterisations. It is not overbearing in its positive messages
and that's not all that's going on. Apart from faith it deals with
relationships, school bullying, marriage and death. Hard to fault
though the ending is somewhat sentimental.