Mary Magdalene review – atasteful RE lesson

Despite Rooney Mara’s best efforts, there’s nothing much about Mary in this earnest attempt to restore the saint’s reputation

As the film’s written coda explains, Mary Magdalene has long been misidentified as a prostitute. Garth Davis’s attractive, unsmiling drama sets out to revise this myth, telling a version of the New Testament that attempts to make the female saint the story’s protagonist. When Rooney Mara’s Mary flees an arranged marriage, her orthodox community insist on exorcising the “demon” that has taken up residence in her body. But there is no demon, she insists, just “my thought, my fear, my longing, my unhappiness”.

It’s no surprise, then, that when Jesus (Joaquin Phoenix, whose shoutiness clashes horribly with Davis’s muted naturalism) and his disciples roll into town, her interest is piqued by his suggestion that she “ignore” her father and husband and instead “obey God”. What follows is a tasteful RE lesson that rushes to paint Mary’s inner strength and moral goodness, but forgets to shade in the contours of her characterisation. Still, Davis, who directed 2016’s Lion (and several episodes of Jane Campion’s BBC drama Top of the Lake), has an eye for space, colour, composition and scale. Cast in bleached beiges and soft, sandy greys, there is something holy about the film’s sparse landscapes.

Watch a trailer for Mary Magdalene.


Simran Hans

The GuardianTramp

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