1. Mythology is not a suitable topic for Drama
I know, I know. I too find it totally bizarre that an armchair critic would complain about using a myth or legend as the basis of a screen story. After all, some of the most memorable films of all time re-tell ancient myths. From Jason and the Argonauts to King Arthur and his knights of the round table, mythology has been a staple of filmic fare since… well, since films began.
Perhaps they were just objecting to the depiction of a BIBLICAL legend? I’ve got a riposte for that one as well. The story of the flood was first recorded not by the Hebrews, but by the ancient Sumerians in “The Epic of Gilead”. It’s a great read – I recommend it. Different names, a smaller boat and a more localised flood, but the same story.
That some cataclysmic event really did occur in the Bronze Age, leaving a lasting impression on human consciousness, is highly probable. Why wouldn’t this be a suitable topic for a film? What makes a suitable subject for a film?
As long as the writer has the skill to tell a story that reveals some truth about the human condition through characters and their conflicts in a psychologically satisfying structure - usually three acts presenting thesis, antithesis and synthesis - the actual story can be about absolutely anything.
2. Faith is not a suitable topic for Drama
Some armchair critics lambasted the BBC for using licence-fee money to fund a drama that did not advance the atheist agenda. Others claimed that because “The Ark” depicted a central character whose belief system was different to theirs, the BBC was guilty of peddling propaganda.
My goodness. What astonishing bigotry! Surely in this day and age we’re open-minded enough to accept all belief systems and not just the West’s politically correct/ intellectually fashionable atheism? Evidently not. Atheism too has its Pharisees.
Personally I found it refreshing to see a man of faith depicted. Most characters we see in drama these days are cynics, agnostics or atheists. More to the point, in “The Ark” the protagonist’s faith was germane to the action. It provided the motivation for the character to build a big boat in the desert 70 miles from the sea against the wishes of his family. As far as dramatic set-ups go, that’s as near to perfection as you will find.
3. Old stories shouldn’t contain contemporary elements
OK. I’m putting my hand up here and freely admitting: I’m a bit of an iconoclast. When I was twelve, I re-wrote “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in “proper” English. I don’t object when Shakespeare plays are set in an era other than Elizabethan. My DVD collection contains four versions of Hamlet, all with different historical settings…
When it came to “The Ark”, armchair critics moaned about Nico Mirallegro’s short haircut. Perhaps they know something I don’t? Maybe they have some sort of psychic connection with a Bronze Age hairdresser who has told them categorically that not a single man alive at that time kept his hair short? Somehow I doubt it.
The town fleshpot where teens danced to pounding music, snogged and smoked mind-altering substances also didn’t go down well. “People were shown smoking before smoking was invented!” exclaimed one armchair critic. Well, yes, smoking tobacco wasn’t prevalent in the West until Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the ugly habit in Elizabethan times, but who’s to say people weren’t smoking other narcotics elsewhere on the planet long before then? Can anyone seriously claim that teenage angst was invented in the 1950s? Where’s the evidence that teens of the ancient world were less likely than their modern peers to be driven to disastrous life-choices by their raging hormones?
While authenticity was clearly a core production value, the look and feel of the film was ultimately an interpretation. Most of what we think we “know” about the Bronze Age is conjecture. Archaeologists revise their theories all the time. Quite frankly, these quibbles miss the point. By giving the story a contemporary feel, Tony Jordan’s aim was to make it more accessible to the audience. I thought he brought it off beautifully.
4. Drama should be based on facts
Perhaps it’s the proliferation of docu-dramas that has folk confused, but it’s documentaries not dramas that should be based on facts. Drama is fiction, or in the case of biopics or historical dramas, a fictionalised account of facts that may tell a few lies to tell a better truth. Sometimes, for example, a screenwriter may need to compound several characters into one or play with chronology in order to make the story work. As Horace said, the purpose of drama is not only to instruct, but also to delight.
That’s not to say drama should be casual with historical facts. I still haven’t forgiven the makers of “U-571” for the disrespect they showed to the British servicemen who sacrificed their lives to capture a German Enigma machine during World War Two by changing their nationality. Anyone who has read history will know the Americans hadn’t even entered World War Two when the crew of H.M.S. Bulldog did that… I’ll never watch another film by that writer/director ever again!
Where possible then, a drama should respect historical facts, or at least remain true to their spirit. A story should have an internal logic and obey the rules of the world it sets up, otherwise it will lack credibility. It may sound like I’ve just contradicted myself, but really, there was no good reason in the story world of U-571 why the writer/director couldn’t stick to the historical facts and have the protagonists be British. It wasn’t “a better truth” he told with his lie… It's a thin line.
Back to “The Ark” - why did it provoke such venomous comments?
I blame the Dawkins Delusion. Richard Dawkins claimed to have disproved the existence of God. I for one would have been happier had he succeeded. It’s so much easier not to have to love your neighbour as yourself, isn’t it? Unfortunately Dawkins’ argument is spurious. He says God doesn’t exist because (a) organised religions often behave badly and (b) the probability s/he exists is small.
As a woman, I wholeheartedly agree organised religion has not always been a force for good. In Western culture half of the population was enslaved to the other half for centuries, justified by the teaching of the Catholic Church. The irony is, the Catholic Church based its dogma not on the preaching of Christ, but on the secular speculations of Aristotle who didn’t know women had sex organs (because ours are internal) and so assumed we must be inferior to men.
Religions are set up by men, not by God. If they have shortcomings, mankind and mankind alone is to blame. Assuming for one moment there is an afterlife, any woman wanting to administer a short, sharp kick in the balls to Aristotle will have to get in line… behind me.
Turning now to the probability argument. You’ve only got to have some rudimentary mathematics - or else read Nassim Nicholas Taleb - to understand that just because something is improbable, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. To borrow Taleb’s eloquent metaphor, for all you, Dawkins or I may know, God could be the ultimate “Black Swan Event”.
Tony Jordan’s formulation was pertinent: only an idiot would say God doesn’t exist, because to be able to say that categorically, you’ve got to know everything, and none of us does.
Rant over. Best get back to writing my own screenplays…