Posted: 10/14/2008


God On Trial


by Del Harvey

Premiering on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre Sunday, November 9, 2008.

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God on Trial is a 2008 BBC/WGBH Boston television play written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, starring Antony Sher, Rupert Graves and Jack Shepherd. The play takes places in Auschwitz during World War II. The Jewish prisoners put God on trial in absentia for abandoning the Jewish people. Specifically, the question is whether by allowing the Nazis to commit genocide has God broken his covenant with the Jewish people? The original play is based on an event described by Elie Wiesel in his book The Trial of God, though writer Boyce describes this tale as “apocryphal.”

In this story the trial takes place in a prison camp blockhouse over the course of a single day. The players are a group of prisoners who are knowingly going to the gas chamber. Their crime: being Jewish. They question God’s demand upon their faith and whether or not he has abandoned them in their hour of need.
The trial is compelling for its deeper intellectual concern, and the visual juxtaposition of a group of prisoners debating such heady issues prior to being executed is intriguing. But at times the piece feels a bit unrealistic, but this is only because it would have benefitted from a few more scenes of Auschwitz, a notorious and horrible concentration camp where hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war were sent to their deaths during World War II.

God On Trial stars Sir Antony Sher, best known as an Olivier Award-winning stage actor but also nominated for a BAFTA for Best Actor for Primo on BBC Four; Rupert Graves (The Forsyte Saga, Charles II); Jack Shepherd (The Golden Compass, A Cock And Bull Story, Wycliffe); Stephen Dillane (The Cazalets, The Hours); Dominic Cooper (Mamma Mia, Sense And Sensibility, The History Boys); Stellan Skarsgard (Mamma Mia, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Good Will Hunting, Breaking The Waves); Lorcan Cranitch (Cracker, Ballykissangel, Rome); Rene Zagger (The Bill, Rome); Eddie Marsan (The Illusionist, Pierrepoint, Vera Drake); and Blake Ritson (Mansfield Park, The Commander).

God On Trial premieres on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre on Sunday, November 9, 2008. Check local listings for showtimes.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.

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