Depicting Mary Magdalene

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Mary Magdalene’s history and existence are a long and complicated matter and she has remained a woman who is still the source of much speculation and rumour, so how did the writer of Mary Magdalene actually go about developing the screenplay and what were her sources of inspiration?

Mary Magdalene has the reputation in Western Christianity as being a repentant prostitute or loose woman; however, these claims are not supported by the canonical gospels. The identity of Mary Magdalene is believed to have been merged with the identity of the unnamed sinner who anoints Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36–50.

From the New Testament, one can conclude that Mary of Magdala (her hometown, a village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee) was a leading figure among those attracted to Jesus. When the men in that company abandoned him at the hour of mortal danger, Mary of Magdala was one of the women who stayed with him, even to the Crucifixion. She was present at the tomb, the first person to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection and the first to preach the “Good News” of that miracle. These are among the few specific assertions made about Mary Magdalene in the Gospels.

Mary Magdelene


The script changed hands between two writers, Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett and at a recent WFTV event, Philippa explained some of the choices and inspiration for the screenplay. The main sources used were the gospels of Mark and the gospels of Mary where references about her were gathered.

Three fragments of a previously-lost “Gospel of Mary” have been discovered in modern times. The longest fragment, a Coptic translation from the original Greek, begins in the middle of the story and also has a large gap at a later point. But enough survives to make it clear that the “Mary” in the story is Mary Magdalene, although she is always just called “Mary” in the extant text. Actually, most scholars doubt that she was the real author, but the work could be based on some early traditions about her.

The surviving fragments depict a controversy between Mary and the other disciples, especially Andrew and Peter. Shortly after the point where the surviving text begins, the male disciples become fearful because Jesus has left them. When they begin to weep, Mary comforts and encourages them. Then she says that Jesus appeared to her in a vision and gave her some special revelations. There is a gap in the surviving text at this point, but after it resumes, Andrew and Peter begin arguing with her about the meaning of Jesus’ teachings. Levi (Matthew) tries to defend Mary, but the gospel appears to end with the controversy still unresolved. The film depicts the disagreement between her and Peter and this is where Mary leaves the disciples.

Alongside the texts, Rabbis, Nuns, Priests were consulted about the film, they seemed to have disagreed on much of the history but were in agreement of Mary’s status to being one of the apostles. Initial screenings were well received by all of the above and the nuns in particular who were pleased to witness female representation form Christianity and are also hopeful to one day see other characters such as Joanne and Salome on screen too.

The film was shot in Sicily, which the team felt provided the feel of the sea of Galilea, timeless and beyond any period, and was also most closely represented “Crucifix Hill in Jerusalem”.

There is some debate about the historical accuracy of some of the events depicted, in particular, the timing of Judas’ death in the film, theologists at the screening felt strongly about this and of course, the film will most certainly will lead to more debates regarding historical accuracy, casting choices and so on.

Joaquin Pheonix as Jesus


In terms of performances, they are all outstanding which is no surprise with a cast that includes Rooney Mara in the title role, Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus of Nazareth, Chiwetel Elojafar as Peter. However, Tahar Rahim as Judas, a man driven by his own desperation to be reunited with his long-lost family is superb and is being widely acknowledged.

The cinematography and direction help create this past world by using the landscape that Scicly provides, a sparse and rough terrain for the story to take place and skillfully used by Garth Davis.

Judas and Mary Magdalene

Films Release

In January 2018, it was pulled from the schedule and In March 2018, it was announced The Weinstein Company would no longer distribute the film, and the producers were attempting to find another distributor to release the film.

The film had its world premiere at the National Gallery on February 26, 2018, and was released in the United Kingdom on March 16, 2018, and in Australia on March 22, 2018.

What became of Mary?

For the last thirty years of her life it is believed that Mary lived in a cave in the Sainte-Baume mountains and was buried in the town of Saint-Maximin. The skull of Saint Mary Magdalene is at the Basilica of Saint Mary Magdalene in St. Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume

I wonder what really become of Mary in those years after Jesus’s death and her leaving the disciples, the film will lead to more people looking for clues about the woman who remains just as mysterious today as she been for the last few centuries.

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