David Trelfall as Noah

The Ark – review

themedianet coordinator Paul Arnold previews the film, and hears from its author.

TV writer Tony Jordan, perhaps best known as creator of Hustle and co-creator of Life on Mars, first tackled a biblical subject back in 2010. Nativity was such a success for the BBC that they immediately commissioned a second script. The Ark, due for a prime-time transmission on BBC1 this month, is the result.

The approach is very different from last year’s CGI-filled Hollywood movie starring Russell Crowe. Here David Threlfall (Shameless, Master and Commander) takes a more intimate approach in the lead role, and Jordan confesses his initial draft ended with the first drop of rain. He subsequently felt that would leave the post-Eastenders audience feeling short-changed.

Nonetheless it’s the human drama of the build-up to the flood that’s almost the entire focus here, and the experience is rather like watching Titanic. You know what’s going to happen, but the journey is still full of drama.

One of the main challenges facing a dramatist approaching these stories is simply making the characters and events believable. Here we focus on family relationships, and the reality of what it would have been like to have your husband or father apparently go so far off the rails. So Jordan avoids the pit falls of characters sounding like they are quoting the Bible rather than talking to each other. ‘This morning my only concern was whether to change the sheets’, says Noah’s wife. ‘Now I’m told the world is going to end’.

There’s also an awareness that the story belongs to Judaism and Islam as well as Christianity. Noah’s fourth son comes from the rendition of the story from the Koran. Noah’s attempt to get him to board the boat was just too good a chance to miss, says Jordan.

As with Nativity, the plan here is to reclaim the story from being ‘just for children’. We’re dealing with serious adult concerns, of faith in God and in each other. The discussion is strikingly modern at times, without seeming anachronistic. Issues around science and religion get an airing, and the evils being washed away by the flood are those of financial greed, child abuse and racism.

When the flood arrives, it is the least convincing part. Even in the era of the rebooted Doctor Who, where BBC budgets can stretch to at least some computerised wizardry, a global flood is a tricky one to pull off. But we’re soon safely back on dry land, and the extension of the story to its conclusion gives Noah a chance to have a last conversation with the Angel. ‘Has mankind learned its lesson?’, Noah is asked. His reply: ‘Only time will tell’.

The Ark is due for transmission on BBC1 at 8.30pm on Monday 30th March. Press information is available here, and there is a preview clip available here.

Paul Arnold
  • I like the ‘change the sheets’ line from Noah’s wife. Look forward to seeing this