After the furore over the new Noah film, perhaps the end is nigh for biblical stories on screen

Darren Aronofsky’s epic has fallen foul of a world which has learnt to take offence at everything and to politicise religious belief


The last time there was a whale in the Thames, in 2006, it was a seven-ton, female northern bottlenose. She had come from Scotland, ill-advisedly turned right somewhere in the North Sea, swum with (I assume) decreasing confidence up the ever-narrowing river, and found herself becalmed in the heart of Chelsea.

Crowds of expensively dressed locals flocked to the banks to watch. There was a lot of public sympathy for the creature. But then something in our collective unconscious seems to have an awestruck, quasi-religious reverence for the great mammals that spend their time, like Leviathan or the Kraken, in the abysmal sea.

Not the Potters Fields Park Management Trust, however. This august body was approached by the Bible Society, which planned to re-enact the story of Jonah and the Whale by beaching an inflatable 50ft whale in a park near Tower Bridge where children could run around inside it. The trust wasn’t keen. “Under the terms of our lease,” the chief executive sternly ruled, “we are not allowed to have events of a religious nature.”

You could argue that the chief executive is being a little over-cautious here. What was being planned on Potters Fields Park wasn’t a Mass, a christening, a prayer meeting, an evangelical gathering or a ritual beheading. It was a whale-shaped bouncy castle being used to dramatise a story from the Hebrew Bible about a hapless prophet saved from drowning by spending three days and nights in a whale’s tummy. It’s a story, not an affirmation of faith. It’s about as narrowly religious as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. But something has clearly spooked the Potters Fields Park Management Trust, and persuaded it to steer clear of any project touched by religion, and I think I know what it is. It’s Noah.

As you can see on the billboards, Darren Aronofsky’s epic $130m film of Noah’s ark and the great flood is almost upon us. It opens on 4 April after five months of abuse, negotiation, lawyers, studio fights, focus groups, religious outrage, damage limitation and hysterical condemnation from all sides.

The trailer is fantastically dramatic, but you can see some things that are wrong with it. Like the casting. Ray Winstone plays Tubal-Cain, the roughneck leader of All the People Who Weren’t Invited on to the Ark. Winstone has been given a fabulous two-pronged beard and, for reasons that escape me, a slight lisp. As in, “You think you can thtand alone and defy me?” – although everything he says seems to be just a variant of “Noah! You thlaaaaaaaggg!” Anthony Hopkins plays Noah’s granddad, Methuselah, who famously lived to be 969, but here doesn’t look a day over 171. Russell Crowe, as Noah, sets out to build his ark because he suffers from terrible dreams of destruction and water penetration, rather than because he’s warned about the storm by God. God doesn’t get a mention in the trailer.

Does he get enough airtime in the movie? That’s the question that has caused trouble since the first test screenings in October. Some Christian groups complained that the film was blasphemous because it took liberties with the original story and introduced random female characters – which seems like criticising Walt Disney for what he did to the Grimm brothers’ Snow White. Other didn’t like the way the story alluded to Darwinian evolution rather than the Book of Genesis. Aronofsky didn’t help: he described Noah as “the least biblical biblical film ever made” and said that he saw the hero as “the first environmentalist”.

The film has now been banned in a dozen countries, including Pakistan, Qatar, Malaysia and in the Middle East and North Africa, because it contradicts the teachings of Islam. In Egypt, they complained that it “violates Islamic law”. (They don’t like prophets being portrayed by actors.)

Much of this was predictable, I suppose, but Paramount Studios’ next move wasn’t predictable at all. It challenged Aronofsky’s right to have the final cut on his movie and made several alternative versions to show audiences, to see which went down best. Can we take a second to think what that means? We have here a story about human wickedness, the destruction of nature, divine retribution, mercy and grace. And Paramount, rather than letting its director make his own vision of these things, tried to find out what would be acceptable to most audiences. How bizarre.

Did it change the story so that the ark finally accommodated Ray Winstone and a selection of his hairy troops? Was the flood made less violent, more along the lines of Hurricane Sandy? Did they try Rainbow and No-Rainbow alternatives for the ending? Did they bin the olive branch? Does Emma Watson marry Methuselah?

Actually, the only thing we know that they did was suck up to Christians: one version opened with a succession of religious images and closed with a Christian rock song. Now, after being tossed by the strong waves of fundamentalism and evangelism, the film is going ahead, but with a disclaimer on screen saying it’s “inspired by the story of Noah” and admitting that “artistic licence has been taken”.

I don’t remember this kind of fuss being brought to Noye’s Fludde, Benjamin Britten’s 1957 opera based on a 15th-century Mystery Play taken from the Bible story, even though it features Mrs Noah and her friends drinking alcohol and taking the mick out of God’s pronouncements. But that was half a century ago, a half-century in which the world learnt to take offence at everything, to politicise religious belief, to insist that no feelings must ever be hurt nor personal zealotry ever questioned.

Frankly, I feel a twinge of sympathy for the chap from the Potters Fields Park Management Trust who turned down the whale in the Thames. It could so easily have become a can of worms.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Apprenticeships

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an outstanding opportunity for 1...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Support Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Support Engineer is required to join a well-...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Administrator - Swedish Speaking

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Day In a Page

Read Next

What Lord Myners tells us about the Royal Mail sell-off shows just how good the City is at looking after itself

Chris Blackhurst
Police are called to Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney's Martin Place, a busy plaza in the heart of the city  

After the Sydney Siege, would Australia be safer with American-style gun laws? The answer is simple

Neil Brennan
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum