UK, BBC2 TV, 2008

director.gif (905 bytes)Andy DeEmmony


Stephen Dillane - Schmidt
Stellan Skarsgård - Baumgarten
Rupert Graves - Mordechai
 Antony Sher - Akiba
Jack Shepherd - Kuhn
Dominic Cooper - Moche
Francois Guetary - Jacques
Eddie Marsan - Lieble
Blake Ritson - Idek
Rene Zagger - Ezra
Andre Oumansky - Jacob
Lorcan Cranitch - Blockaltester
Josef Altin - Isacc
Alexi Kaye Campbell - Doctor
Joseph Alessi - Kapo
 Ashley Artus - Ricard
David De Keyser - Hugo
Louise Mardenborough - Emily


Awaiting their fate in a sombre blockhouse in Auschwitz, a group of men – including a physicist, a glove-maker, two rabbis, a professor of law and at least one criminal – struggle desperately not only to survive, but to make sense of their existence. As they wait to discover whether they have been selected for the gas chambers, these prisoners, driven to the limit by the cruelty of the Nazis, demand to know the answer to the question: What is the nature of a God that can allow so much suffering?

Before three "judges", a gallery of witnesses is called to give testimony.  Powerful arguments from history, from science, from theology and from heart-breaking personal experience are brought before the court. It is argued that the prisoners are a sacrifice, that man is being punished for his sins, that the universe is godless, that life is a pitiless struggle for survival and that God is not good and has sided with the Nazis. With only one night to reach a verdict, knowing half of them will be sent to the gas chamber in the morning, their debate is a moving and 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.

button_box.gif (205 bytes)PRODUCTION NOTES:

Filming took place in Scotland in  Dumbarton and Bishopton for two weeks in January 2008.  Executive Producer Mark Redhead comments: "With the attacks of September 11 and the Iraq war, religion is now centre-stage in a way that has not occurred before in my lifetime; extraordinary atrocities are being committed in the name of God, while natural calamities and man-made disasters claim thousands of lives every year. 'God On Trial' is set in an extreme situation, but it wrestles with the great questions we all ask ourselves: how can there be so much suffering in the world, and what kind of a god could let such things happen? God On Trial attempts to look at some of the most perplexing metaphysical issues, but it is also a drama about what keeps the human spirit alive even when faced with the worst suffering and impending death."

Produced by Hat Trick Productions for BBC Scotland. Aired on BBC 2 on September 3, 2008 and on PBS -  Masterpiece Theater on November 9, 2008.

button_box.gif (205 bytes)STELLAN COMMENTS:
"There's no reason to deal with history for history's sake. It is only important to deal with it when we can learn something from it. We have so much to learn from this time."





The Daily Telegraph:
Demanding but ultimately brilliant. Apparently Frank Cottrell Boyce wrote "God on Trial" from a position of personal faith. Yet, as each of the characters put forward a different view on the question of God and suffering, it was clear that he was willing to interrogate his beliefs with real ferocity... Any short summary is bound to make "God on Trial" sound more simplistic than it was. Instead, as the fierceness of the intellectual and emotional grip tightened, it was impossible to imagine any halfway-thoughtful viewers, of whatever prior convictions, not having a disturbing sense of their own ideas coming under sustained and convincing attack.

The Times:
The performances were so strong it felt a privilege to watch the actors.

The Independent:
The result, given the hazards of such an enterprise, its multiple risks of exploitation and false sentiment, was very good indeed, gripping both by means of theological debate and unexpected revelation.

The Guardian:
Virtually every line throws up an interesting theological or philosophical question, and it left me reeling and a bit numb. For the characters it's clearer, and they reach their verdict: guilty. Crikey, some people aren't going to like that. Powerful and thoughtful stuff, with some fine performances by some fine actors. Actually, if anything, the performances are a little too fine - this was look-at-me, theatrical acting by actors with the prerequisite long pauses. Fine from the circle, even the stalls, possibly a bit too much through a television camera. Anyway,
that's a minor quibble in what was intelligent, grown-up TV.

TV Scoop:
A thoughtful subject, sensitively and thoughtfully handled with excellent performances from some of our finest actors. Adult drama for thinking adults. Top stuff.

The Scotsman:
What it most resembles is a stage play: a dramatic piece full of impassioned speeches, with an intelligent script and a strong international cast. The subject is the rumoured (possibly apocryphal) trial staged by prisoners in Auschwitz facing the gas chambers; God, not Hitler, is charged with betrayal and breach of contract – ie, breaking the covenant with the Jews that was promised to Moses. The drama is not about whether this trial happened, or whether, if it took place, it happened like this. Instead it's an intellectual exercise that includes much thrashing out of obscure points of Old Testament history. Yet the setting gives it weight and some extremely good acting brings the debate to life. To mention only a few of the excellent performances, there's Stellan Skarsgård and Dominic Cooper, a million miles away from their roles in Mamma Mia!