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Miranda-izing God?

November 13, 2008 By:
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From left: Stephen Dillane, Stellan Skarsgard and Rupert Graves put "God on Trial." Photo by Neil Davidson/Hat Trick Productions

"God on Trial" -- on the seventh day, the defense rested?

There is no rest for memory.

And that is what this fascinating, if occasionally ploddingly pedantic and draining, drama offers as a plot point as part of "Masterpiece Contemporary," being broadcast this Saturday morning and Sunday evening at 9 on WHYY-TV Arts and Culture Channel.

Why? It takes on the very Jewish conceit that arguing with God is in the genes of Judaism -- heavens, Tevye attests to it. But who knew that if God is in the details, he was also in jail.

And who would have the chutzpah to drag him there?

Seems Frank Cottrell Boyce did. Miranda-izing God? Boyce bounced the idea around presented him by exec producer Mark Redhead of Hat Trick Productions before coming up with a script shot in Glasgow over two weeks.

And, if the BBC broadcast doesn't exactly pull off a hat trick -- or yank your yarmulke -- it does attain one goal: Questioning why God would stand by idly and let man self-immolate in modern times without providing an extinguisher to prevent his extermination.

It seems a quixotic quest, but tilting at windmills winds up being a welcome talent from the screenwriter of "Welcome to Sarajevo."

What more harrowing setting could there be than the Holocaust and a concentration camp, for the concentrated action of men whose wrists and days are numbered, as they debate the existential question by the bonfires of hate at Auschwitz.

Redhead heads a long line of deep thinkers delving deeply into the topic, assayed on the small screen with big performances by such notables as Sir Antony Sher, as a mostly silent rabbi (well, the 90-minute film doesn't always deal in reality), and Rupert Graves, as all attempt to dig an intellectual tunnel amid the tumult for themselves to escape the hell-hole existence to which their religion has relegated them.

It is all an intellectual exercise with some heavy lifting, interchanging past and present, with inmates interspersed in scenes of tourists visiting the camp in the future.

Breach of Contract

But the gall of putting God on trial? And who do they summon to serve the summons? Well, if God is to be acquitted for his burning bush of a breach of contract with the Chosen People, guess it's good he's chosen a Jewish law firm to defend him.

It is the ultimate tort among the tortured. If the sharp interaction of the inmates is more theatrical and theoretical than fulfilling, "God on Trial," as a movie, does proffer the big picture -- questions that have haunted college students, Holocaust survivors and, probably, even Joe the Plumbers, ever since Eve discovered her Garden of Eden wasn't for eating apples.

As for the film's finale: A guilty sentence for God would put a period on the explanation of why the world is so out of sync these days; but an innocent verdict would open the cell door to even more questions of why souls seem so incarcerated by a searing seal of hopelessness.

And the Jewish jury's verdict? Judgment Day: This weekend.

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