Adam Greaves-Neal stars as Jesus in his first leading role in The Young Messiah. The film looks at Jesus’ life as a child. Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

Ambitious film tackles Jesus as no other has dared

By 
  • March 12, 2016

For the first time in cinematic history, a film is exploring the life of the child Jesus. The Young Messiah, in theatres March 11, follows the seven-year-old Jesus growing up in Egypt after the Holy Family fled Bethlehem to escape King Herod’s wrath. With news of Herod’s death, Joseph decides it is time to return. The journey, however, is not without its obstacles as Herod’s son assumes the search for the child Saviour.

The young Adam Greaves-Neal debuts in his first leading role as the child Jesus. Adam is best known for roles in British television’s Sherlock and All at Sea. Sean Bean, of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy fame, plays Severus in leading an army of soldiers on a mission across Judea to find and kill the boy who escaped Bethlehem seven years before.

Director and co-screenwriter Cyrus Nowrasteh said the film is a beautiful story that won’t disappoint. It is based on Anne Rice’s 2005 novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. Rice wrote the novel after her highly publicized return to the Catholic faith in 1998. The novel received rave reviews in the Christian community and in 2010, Rice approached Nowrasteh to develop the film adaptation. (Later that year, Rice publicly announced she had fallen away — again — from Christianity.)

Nowrasteh and his wife and screenwriting partner, Betsy Griffin Nowrasteh, were instantly fascinated by the story of Jesus’ childhood. “In so many movies, most of them deal with Jesus’ final years in the crucifixion,” he said. “We never really get a chance to see past the
iconic image of Jesus or the iconic image of Mary and Joseph and the Holy Family.”

Nowrasteh emphasizes this is only a fictional imagining of what Jesus and His family. But in working from the novel, then reforming the story in consultation with historians and theologians, Nowrasteh is confident in the message of the film.

“You try to remain true to how the character of Jesus is portrayed in the Bible. So as we considered how Jesus would react to something in His childhood, we looked at what the Bible tells us about how He reacted to similar situations as an adult.”

The Young Messiah has taken time to come together, with a few false starts along the way.

“It’s been a five-year journey,” Nowrasteh told The Catholic Register. “It’s always a little risky territory when you’re making a movie about Jesus, especially something that is sort of considered outside of the Bible, and we wanted to make sure our movie was reverential and respectful.”

There is not much known about Jesus’ early years. In fact, theologians call the years between Jesus’ childhood and public ministry “the hidden years.” The few hints that we do have about Jesus’ early years are found in the first few chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Even those accounts contrast.

But in combining both narratives with historical records, theologians have agreed the Holy Family fled as refugees to Egypt one to two years after Christ’s birth. Herod likely died around 1 B.C. and his sons assumed full authority over his kingdom. The tyrannical Herod Archelaus took control of Judea.

Nowrasteh said it was important to be respectful to historical and biblical accuracies so that audiences can focus on the story.

“I’ve seen a lot of people come to this movie with skepticism... and they almost have this theological checklist in their head,” said Nowrasteh. “But what I find is that they sit, they watch the movie and they become connected to the characters. They go inside this family... They become so involved that the checklist goes out the window.”

Nowrasteh said one of the biggest triumphs of the film is how children in the audience become connected to Jesus in a new way.

“I experienced children seeing other Jesus movies and sometimes they are frightened and they don’t understand. I think that when you see Jesus as child, He’s almost more accessible in our movie,” said Nowrasteh.

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