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Thursday, November 6

Jane Austen Character Actors Featured in 'God on Trial'

On Sunday November 9, PBS will air God on Trial, a film so powerful that it will transform you. This film is about a group of prisoners in Auschwitz who discuss their faith on what is to be the last day for half the men in the cell block. The actors' names are familiar, though you might not recognize them with their shaved heads and in their prison garb. Continuing the Six Degrees of Austen Adaptation Separation series that we began last spring, although in a more somber vein, here are some familiar actors who portrayed characters in God on Trial and who are also tied in some way to a Jane Austen film adaptation.

Dominic Cooper as Moche

We've watched him in Mama Mia and as Willoughby in 2007's Sense and Sensibility, so we know he can play the dashing hero and cocky anti-hero. But in this part, Dominic plays an unlikeable man, one whose swagger grates on the nerves of his fellow prisoners. This is the first time where this viewer was utterly mesmerized by Dominic's performance. He plays an obnoxious character quite convincingly, and his transformation at the end of the film is both powerful and unforgettable. Would any one of us have behaved otherwise in a similar situation? Perhaps not. Here's what Dominic had to say about his character: "Moche can't comprehend the situation they find themselves in or the fact that they're trying to justify God's existence within the group. He's very hot-headed and speaks on behalf of the everyman."

Blake Ritson as Idek

As Idek, Blake plays a learned scholar who was Rabbi Schmidt's best pupil ever. His performance is quiet, assured and sensitive, and one's eyes are riveted on this striking man as he is shorn of his hair and earthly possessions. Blake's dark and beautiful eyes are haunting in this memorable role. Who would have thought that the actor who played Edmund Bertram so capably in 2007's Mansfield Park would be so utterly convincing as a 1940's rabinical scholar? Blake's assessment of Idek is stark: "As one of the youngest and most idealistic characters, I think he's unusual in that, certainly at first, he represents a hope and genuine belief that somehow all will be well. Throughout the course of the day, however, as his whole identity is assaulted by losing his clothes, his possessions and his hair, he completely crumbles under the strain. Through him we trace the idealist's descent into absolute despair."

Rupert Graves as Mordechai

Rupert has shared the screen with a number of actors who portrayed characters in Jane Austen adaptations, including Amanda Root(Anne Elliot), Alison Steadman (Mrs. Bennet), Robert Hardy, (Sir John Middleton), Samantha Morton (Harriet Smith, at right with Rupert in 1999's Dreaming of Joseph Lees) andJudi Dench (Lady Catherine de Bourgh) to name a few. In God on Trial Rupert portrays Mordechai, one of the three inquisitors of the court who sit in judgment of God. As Rupert said of his role, "I imagine he had a job before the Holocaust in something like public planning – I think he's very civic minded, a very reasonable man. But I'd say that, unsurprisingly, he's fairly depressed at the moment."

The rest of the cast of this television special is sterling. With the stark setting of Auschwitz as a backdrop, their debate is an intense portrayal of how we struggle to make sense of the world and keep the human spirit alive, even when faced with the worst suffering and impending death. God On Trial is set in an extreme situation, but it wrestles with the great questions we all ask ourselves.

This soul-searing movie is based on true events, and while it not entertaining in a traditional commercial sense, it should not be missed by the serious thinking viewer. Please click here to read my review of the film on my popular culture blog.

Posted by Vic, Jane Austen's World


Heather Carroll said...

Your 6 degrees reminds me of something you are probably more than aware of. Did you notice how just about every actor in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice is also in The Libertine?

laura said...

Thank you so, so much for pointing out this film. Noone from my direct family was involved in the Holocaust (thankfully they left Eastern Europe in the 20's and my family from Morocco barely suffered) but my uncle by marriage's mother was about 10 years old when it started and she has told me many stories about it.
I cannot wait to watch this movie. I find it...weird that after 8 years of Jewish school and yearly Holocaust learning not a single teacher (or student, for that matter) ever brought these scholars up. Hmmmm.
Thank you again.
ps: the cast is amazing. :)

Vic said...

Laura, Thank you for your observations. For years it was conjectured whether the story was true or not, then Eli Wiesel confirmed it in an interview, saying it did happen. The link to his interview sits in my review. The link to my review sits in this post.