It is the perfect time of year for an interesting, sometimes uneven look at what the life of the young Jesus.
“The Young Messiah,” which is based on the Anne Rice book “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt: A Novel,” humanizes the family and friends of Jesus right from the start. We watch as the 7-year-old Messiah, played beautifully by Adam Greaves-Neal, watches his cousin Salome draw a camel in the sand.
Jesus then is bullied for being a “baby” for playing with a girl. An entity known in the credits as “The Demon” (Rory Keenan) causes the death of one of the bullies, then persuades those nearby that Jesus is the real killer. The situation that ensues is only one of many that the child, who does not understand his origins, faces along with his family.
We see Jesus talking with his brother James, who seems envious of Jesus and simply does not like him much.
Some of Rice’s book was based on “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas,” which tells about Jesus creating real birds from those made of clay (this is addressed a bit differently here but with the same theme).
His parents Mary (Sara Lazzaro) and Joseph (Vincent Walsh, television’s “Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog”) want to wait until their son can better understand who he truly is before they explain his birth to him.
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Part of the movie is set on the family’s return home to Nazareth, where the potential for violence abounds at every moment. The family wants to keep a low profile because word of the miracles of Jesus is beginning to spread.
Even though King Herod is dead, his successor orders Roman centurion Severus (the recognizable Sean Bean, “The Martian”) to find and kill the boy. (“Harry Potter” fans also might recognize David Bradley, who played the Hogwarts caretaker, as a rabbi who questions Jesus at the temple.
The film’s landscapes are beautifully depicted. John Debney’s lush score creates an atmosphere of reverence.
Adam is wonderful as the central character. In many scenes, those familiar with sacred art will see in this young actor a strong resemblance to iconic images of the young Christ painted hundreds of years ago. The young performer also captures the wonder of a child who does not quite understand his own abilities, what is going on around him, nor why he is so important.
The major detraction is the way “The Demon” appears, with bleached-blonde hair and such intensity that he often seems to be part of a different movie.
Still, this is a loving glimpse at Jesus and his family that will help fill in the blanks about Christ’s early life for audiences of faith.