The Preston Passion is the latest in a long line of contemporary retellings of classic events or stories engaging local communities from the BBC. Following in the footsteps of the Manchester Passion and the Liverpool Nativity, what has 2012’s offering been like?
Opening live on a grey overcast day outside Preston’s iconic bus station and with Fern Britton hosting, you would be forgiven for assuming this is some daytime show gone awry, but for those who stayed tuned, it was a rewarding experience.
Admittedly Preston doesn’t have the cultural reserves that Manchester or Liverpool have at their disposal – Manchester’s Passion was able to draw on its rich musical heritage to retell the story of the crucifixion through the songs of Joy Division, Oasis and James amongst others whilst Liverpool’s Nativity drew on musical and poetic backgrounds.
By consequence The Preston Passion is not as spectacular an event as its neighbours but what it lacks in spectacle, it more than makes up for in raw emotion and a much more personal experience. With themes such as loss, betrayal and self sacrifice carved through the programme, both in the choice of hymns, the vignettes with participation from the watching crowds and the three pre-filmed dramas, it brought together the local community in a way you don’t see very often any more. Volunteers rubbed shoulders with celebrities in the type of collaborative event that the BBC is starting to make a name for itself with.
The three pre-filmed dramas covered key moments over from Victorian times through World War 1 up to the modern day. Starring recognisable faces including Tom Ellis, Samantha Bond and Julia Haworth, these dramas were modern day morality plays from the perspective of Pilates, Mary and Jesus. Intensely personal and relevant, they formed a core of the action in Preston, and being filmed in the North West and Preston itself added to the local theme.
It’s a shame that The Preston Preston hasn’t drawn much attention outside of the local area, and I suspect it might, sadly, be forgotten quickly. It is a prime example of where perhaps religious and social programming should be going on the BBC – into the local community and actively engaging people. A modern, refreshing take on the Passion story that does not patronise the viewer. More please.