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‘Of Kings and Prophets’ like ‘Game of Thrones’ minus the dragons

"Of Kings and Prophets" is an epic biblical saga of faith, ambition and betrayal as told through the eyes of the battle-weary King Saul, far left, the resentful prophet Samuel and the resourceful young shepherd David -- all on a collision course with destiny that will change the world. Its season premiere is on March 8, 2016. Photo courtesy of ABC/Trevor Adeline
ABC's "Of Kings & Prophets" stars Haaz Sleiman as Jonathan, Maisie Richardson-Sellers as Michal, Simone Kessell as Queen Ahinoam, Ray Winstone as King Saul, Jeanine Mason as Merav and James Floyd as Ishbaal. Photo courtesy of ABC/Trevor Adeline

ABC’s “Of Kings & Prophets” stars Haaz Sleiman as Jonathan, Maisie Richardson-Sellers as Michal, Simone Kessell as Queen Ahinoam, Ray Winstone as King Saul, Jeanine Mason as Merav and James Floyd as Ishbaal. Photo courtesy of ABC/Trevor Adeline

“Faithful Viewer” is an occasional feature where RNS reporters plumb religion and spirituality — in film, television, books, music and other forms of popular culture.

(RNS) If you’re planning to watch “Of Kings and Prophets,” bring your bandages.

In the first five minutes blood spurts from chests and mouths, streams downhill from bodies and is held up in handfuls. The rest of the hourlong episode has nudity, premarital sex, a beheading and an impalement. Children are slaughtered. A man is attacked by a lion in a scene the bear from “The Revenant” would be proud of.

This ain’t no Sunday school Bible filmstrip.

And that’s the point, say the creators of “Of Kings and Prophets,” which premieres Tuesday (March 8) on ABC. They were aiming less for the religious home-schooled crowd and more for the HBO crowd — despite the fact that the network is owned by Disney.

“We don’t view this as a revisionist history, nor do we view it as a literal translation” of the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel on which it is based, said Chris Brancato, executive producer of the show, during a press rollout. “We’ve sought to make the show modern. … This is a non-dragon version of ‘Game of Thrones.’”

Goal achieved. And like “Game of Thrones,” the production values are high, the costumes luscious, and the hair styles … creative. But has ABC misstepped by making the show, which will air at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. Central) so adult?


READ: A Bible you can wear on your heart, sleeve or lapel


An epic biblical saga of faith, ambition and betrayal as told through the eyes of the battle-weary King Saul, far left, the resentful prophet Samuel and the resourceful young shepherd David - all on a collision course with destiny that will change the world. “Of Kings and Prophets” will make its season premiere on March 8, 2016. Photo courtesy of ABC/Trevor Adeline

“Of Kings and Prophets” is an epic biblical saga of faith, ambition and betrayal as told through the eyes of the battle-weary King Saul, far left, the resentful prophet Samuel and the resourceful young shepherd David — all on a collision course with destiny that will change the world. Its season premiere is on March 8, 2016. Photo courtesy of ABC/Trevor Adeline

“Of Kings and Prophets” tells the story of the aging King Saul (Ray Winstone), the ascending David (Olly Rix) and the women who love and hate them. David starts the series as the young shepherd he was before he slew Goliath, before he succeeded Saul as King of Israel and before he spied Bathsheba bathing.

There’s a lot here for Christian and Jewish audiences, who both revere the story as Scripture, to love. But will they?

“My problem, many times with shows like this is (that) instead of pulling out of the audience more recognition of  the power or the love of God, or more compassion and more understanding of the human condition, they can instead pull out of us our love of being excited and titillated, which doesn’t transform us,” said Linda Seger, a television and film script consultant.

Seger, who said she has seen only trailers of the series, says there can still be a market for such shows among Christians, like herself, or Jews.

“A Christian audience can get hooked on exactly the same things that any other audience does: violence, blood, sex, etc.,” she said. “As Christians, we might want to be high-minded and enlightened but that doesn’t mean we are.”

Case in point: “The Passion of the Christ,” the 2004 film directed by Mel Gibson, was a ripping success. Christians rented out entire movie theaters and sent churchgoers by the chartered busload to fill them. The movie, made for $30 million, has earned $611 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

And religion and film scholars have seen its bloody fingerprints on dozens of other Bible-based Hollywood products, including television’s “A.D.: The Bible Continues” and “The Red Tent” and the movies “Noah,” “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (which the “Of Gods and Prophets” creative team worked on) and the current feature film, “Risen,” which mimics “The Passion of the Christ” in look and feel.


RELATED STORY: ‘Risen’ movie raises old Hollywood trope – unbeliever meets Jesus


“Evangelical Christians seem to have less trouble with” violence, said Paul V.M. Flesher, a religious studies professor at the University of Wyoming. “Violence is not OK, but it has become such a part of our entertainment culture, from childhood cartoons onwards, that we are largely inured to it. In and of itself, I don’t see violence as causing a lot of Christian reactions against the series — especially if the blood and the violence is in the proper context, such as battles, or the fight between Goliath and David.”

But the line between too much violence and too much sex and just the right amounts is a very fine one for a television studio to walk.

“There is nothing here we haven’t seen before,” said Jeffrey Mahan, a professor of ministry, media and culture at the Iliff School of Theology. “The question of whether it is a misstep is probably one of timing. Is there a current audience for a renewal of the form? ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and last year’s ‘Exodus’ suggest that it is likely.”

(Kimberly Winston is a national correspondent for Religion News Service)

Faithful Viewer logo. Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

Faithful Viewer logo. Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

8 Comments

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  • Why not a bible movie based on the story of Ruth or a movie about the lives of Mary and Martha? Or a story about Jonah and the whale? There are more stories in the bible than people tend to think that aren’t about gore or sex that could make for some interesting movies but Hollywood never touches them for some reason.

  • Not particularly impressed with the pilot. The biggest problem for most Biblical films and TV is the plug ugly design and look to them. The only flair and flourish coming from Egyptians, Romans or Philistines.

  • I always think it’s strange that they randomly make actors speak with British accents in movies and shows like this. And to make it even more bizarre they’ve got the prophet Samuel speaking with an Italian accent…

  • As a former Southern Baptist minister, I must say that I liked “Of Kings and Prophets. It made the characters real instead of stiff cardboard cutouts. I would like to know if more episodes were produced and how to obtain these if possible.

  • Another Message:

    All Global Leaders,

    What needs to happen before you start listening to me?

    Sincerely,

    LORD of lords
    KING of kings
    JESUS CHRIST

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