Work Header

The Passion of Saint Tibulus, Collector's Edition

Work Text:

Recollections of the lead actor:
That beach was freezing, I can tell you. No one warned me, of course. No, they just told me I was to be shot with arrows, which sounded fine, particularly when they told me there was going to be a miracle, and even though I'd be doing a pincushion impersonation with all the arrows, I wouldn't actually be hurt or bleeding. So no need to mess around with blood bags. You have no idea how fake blood gets everywhere. You think you've washed it all off, and it still manages to get on your clothes.

Anyway, I didn't suspect anything. Arrows. No blood. What part of that sounds like getting your kit off and splashing around in the Baltic in winter? I ask you, why did I have to martyred on a bloody beach? Couldn't they have dragged me off to a nice field somewhere, or even better, inside where it would be nice and warm and dry? But no, Matthew had this vision. Personally, I think he'd looked at too many painting of St Sebastian. Though why you look at a man being tied to a tree and think it would be better if he was being frozen in ice cold water instead I don't know. But Matthew was determined to get a scene with me lying there, all pierced with arrows, and a little bit of sea foam running over my stomach. The problem being, he insisted it should look sort of white and a bit opaque, and that isn't actually what water looks like. So there were a lot of retakes. I got around to thinking I'd have preferred the blood.

Then, after that was all over, you know what happened? We ended up back at the beach, to do the scene where I have a mill-stone tied around my neck and miraculously stay afloat. It makes you wonder, doesn't it. How did they come to a have a mill-stone lying around on the beach, ready to martyr someone with? And who goes to the trouble of tying a ruddy great stone to someone's neck and carting them and the stone both out into the water – the really cold water, remember – when you could just knife them? For that matter, wasn't it a bit of a clue when the arrows didn't work? Surely you'd ask yourself if you were on the right side after something like that? But no, mill-stone it was. At least the bit where they get their act together and behead me was further up the beach, so no getting wet that day. Well, no getting wet in the sea. It rained for ages.

When I saw the final cut, there's a whole sequence after I'm dead where the barren beach turns into a meadow of flowers. Why couldn't I have been martyred in a nice spring meadow in the first place?


Member of the Audience:
Obviously the chess scenes are a homage to The Seventh Seal, but I'm really not sure what to make of the skiing.


Interview with Professor Canter-Smith:
Professor Canter-Smith: The Paris scenes are very important, of course. Here is this young man, already a deacon at fifteen, and a priest at eighteen, coming from this very insular, very harsh background. But he's learnt to see God in everything, despite the hardships of his early life, and it's this love of God which leads him to realise he must leave his home village and travel to somewhere he can be properly instructed in theology. And yet, just as Paris offers an opportunity to deepen and broaden his faith, it also presents new challenges to it: corruption and depravity undreamt of among the simple farmers of his birth.

Interviewer: Ye-es. I see what you mean, but I'd rather understood he had to leave because he was accused of stealing sheep? I thought they were going to hang him, but he hid in a cave and then fled the country disguised as a travelling musician?

Professor: Indeed, his holiness was not well understood by many of his childhood fellows, who insisted on judging him by quite inappropriate secular standards. The sheep were undoubtedly part of the tithe properly due to the Church. I would like to draw your attention, however, to the cave imagery, which recurs throughout the film, both as the waiting mouth of Hell, and as a place of protection, rather womblike really. The brothel, for example, is shot much the same way as the cave, and likewise represents both potential damnation and also, of course, an immediate means of hiding himself from the members of the city guard who are hunting for him.


Member of the Audience:
Those were totally the wrong breed of sheep.


Recollections of the lead actor:
I did like my scenes with Ingrid. Lovely girl. Actually, we almost got engaged, but then she went off to do Sixteen Violent Deaths in a Bleak Norwegian Town, and I met Briony on The Amazing Adventures of Smith, so it didn't go anywhere. But those were some of the bits that really attracted me to the script at the start: the scene where I'm preparing to go off to Paris, and trying to comfort her, which I thought was very moving, and then later when I come back to the valley, now a rich and important bishop, and she doesn't recognise me at first. I've always wanted to play a close sibling relationship. Though I did think some of Matthew's decisions were a little strange. I'm very close to my own sister – that's really why I wanted to play the part, a sort of tribute to her – and we're a pretty affectionate family, but I can't say we touch each other as much as that. Or french kiss.

And then of course they cast Ingrid as that prostitute in Paris as well, and the slave-girl in Jerusalem, which Matthew explained to me was to show how much Tibulus missed his sister, but I never thought it quite worked. Particularly when the actress who was supposed to play Ermengarde got a role in that big blockbuster and had to drop out, and they cast Ingrid as her too. It did mean we saw a lot of each other, though, which was nice, and at least when she was playing my mistress we were supposed to have chemistry.


Member of the audience:
I was appalled by the scenes in Jerusalem. It was sickening how they fetishised the 'exotic' slaves, and on top of that they white-washed them by casting Norwegians! Disgusting. I'm more offended every time I watch it.


Interview with Professor Canter-Smith:
Professor Canter-Smith: We see a real spiritual progression in how Tibulus understands love. At first he has a very simple, very unaffected relationship with his family: a natural, instinctive type of love. Then he is exposed to all the possibilities of carnal love, mere lust of the flesh, that he has to explore thoroughly in order to dismiss. Then, in the Jerusalem scenes, he makes a real emotional connection with the slave-girl, and is visibly distressed when he sees her being whipped. The camera lingers on the whip and the welts on her back to emphasise just how pivotal that moment is for him. And then of course he's forced to whip her himself, and confront the possibility of evil inherent in all of us.

Then he goes back to Paris and meets the Viscountess Ermengarde, and in counselling her on her unhappy marriage comes himself to a better understanding of the spiritual aspects of love. Finally, on returning to Norway, he is re-united with his sister, who comes to live with him: the original natural love he bore her has now been deepened and enriched with Christian understanding.

Interviewer: Not just his sister: also his fifteen year old niece, who seems to be very close to him.

Professor Canter-Smith: Yes, that was a master stroke. There is no historical record of the niece, indeed the sister is said to have sought refuge in a nunnery when her brother left, and stayed there for a decade and a half, deep in prayer and self-denial, until his triumphant return. But in the niece, Coste has created a figure who represents the new, more Christian Norway; the influence a man of deep faith and learning can have on the next generation. You see how instantly she and Tibulus are taken with each, as she recognises her spiritual leader, and he an ardent follower: Tibulus has managed to bring back his experience abroad, and pass it on to the next generation at home. The scene where he shows her the cave he used to play in with his sister, and they embrace just as he and his sister did in the earlier scene, shows a new generation who is at once able to combine that natural, familial love I spoke of earlier with a deeper spiritual understanding.


Member of the audience (French):
It was impossible to take it seriously: the lead actor, his accent was execrable.


Recollections of the lead actor:
The pilgrimage was much better: everything could be filmed on set. It's amazing what you learn as an actor: I'd always envisioned ships of that era as cramped and dirty, with terrible provisions and tiny overcrowded cabins. But Matthew said they weren't like that at all, and wealthy members of the nobility or the church travelled in real luxury, with beautiful clothes and gold or silver plates and any number of feasts. I suppose they must have had to stop all the time to re-provision.

I do think the cabins must have been a bit smaller in real life, though. Presumably the set designer made them bigger for ease of filming. But I really can't imagine the ships then were big enough to have ten or twelve diners in one room, with plenty of space, plus a whole horde of dancing girls and all those young men to pour the wine. I'm not really sure why Matthew thought we'd need a wine-pourer each, or why mine had to sit on my lap. Perhaps he was thinking of how small and cramped the ship must really have been? Very big on historical accuracy, Matthew was. He had this whole lecture any time one of us wanted to wear a few more clothes. Something about a not imposing our own cultural shibboleths on a freer and more innocent past.


Member of the audience:
Seriously, those were quite obviously Dala sheep. What were they thinking? Maybe the Vikings brought home some nice Cheviots and Leicesters to breed with the local sheep, and that's how they got to look like that? Not that Cheviots and Leicesters existed back then either. No thought at all given to historical accuracy. I can't believe they didn't think anyone would notice. No respect for the audience.


Interview with Professor Canter-Smith:
Professor Canter-Smith: Another scene which is vital to understanding The Passion is the point where Tibulus holds firm to his conception of the worth and dignity of individual human lives, and refuses to join the raiding party, preferring to stay onboard the ship and sing hymns. It's a key moment, because no one else understands his motives, so he has to face their derision and mockery, as they accuse him of cowardice – you will see at once the relationship to the early scene where he flees Norway. But then he was frightened and distressed, and had to be comforted by his sister: now he has become self-sufficient in his faith, and far from caring what others think, he grows steadily more ecstatic as he contemplates God.

Interviewer: You know, I hadn't realised those were hymns – of course, I don't speak Norwegian. I'd assumed they were drinking songs.

Professor Canter-Smith: That's a very revealing mistake to make: they are set to very lively tunes, and have very simple words, which refer to religion only metaphorically. This is because they were hymns suitable for people who were only just coming under the influence of Christianity. You can tell they're hymns, though, by the fact he's celebrating a private mass for all those who may die in the raid. (You will remember he had to search the captain's cabin to find the wine he needed.) The point is that Christianity will at first present a simple, easy to grasp form to the Norwegians, and then they will grow in moral character and religious understanding, being steadily overcome by the civilising influence of religion, just as Tibulus is overcome in this scene by the glory of God, eventually collapsing and losing consciousness.

Interviewer: Yes, I thought it was very touching how the young man who'd sat with him at dinner in the previous scene helped him to bed.


Member of the audience (Polish):
Warto podróż. Pięć gwiazdek.