The Book of Clarence


All film genres are cyclical, with some appearing on our screens more frequently than others, such as comedies, dramas and action films.

One that doesn’t make regular outings on the big screen these days is the religious epic.

Made popular in the fifties and sixties, mainly with the introduction of the widescreen format CinemaScope, films such as The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur were a huge success at the box office.

Since that period however, the genre has only seen occasional offerings such as Martin Scorsese’s 1988 The Last temptation of Christ and 2004’s The Passion of Christ directed by Mel Gibson.

This latest one, starring LaKeith Stanfield, is brought to us by relatively new British filmmaker Jeymes Samuel, that focuses on Clarence, who, like many, is captivated by the greatest influencer of them all, Jesus Christ.

boom reviews The Book of Clarence
Did you see that? He turned that water into an all you can drink shot bar.

Despite his good intentions, Clarence (Stanfield) and his faithful sidekick Elijah (RJ Cyler) end up losing a chariot race they believed themselves to be dead certs of winning. This quickly puts them in the bad books of Jedediah the Terrible (Eric Kofi Abrefa), who not only owned the chariot, but they now owe a large sum of money to. He’s given them 30 days to repay the debt or they’re dead men.

Their business of selling weed isn’t going to cut it, so the pair have to come up with a sure-fire money-making plan fast.

Clarence’s twin brother Thomas (Stanfield) has become an apostle to some guy claiming to be the messiah, whose clever tricks appear to be an ideal way to make money. So Clarence decides that he may as well become a messiah too, as it looks like the perfect get rich quick scam.

After a while however, Clarence starts to believe that there may well be more to this messiah malarkey than meets the eye.

boom reviews The Book of Clarence
So you think it was me that peed in your herbal tea?!

Considering this is only Samuel’s third film, he shows a lot of confidence behind the camera. Immediately from the off you appreciate his homage to those biblical behemoths with his widescreen presentation and stirring soundtrack, which he also created.

And although described as a comedy, he doesn’t go down the Life of Brian route, choosing not to play every scene for laughs. And although this is very much a hip re-telling of what many consider the greatest story ever told, it’s also remarkably respectful too.

It’s a character driven piece, with a story that could almost be a multiverse alternative version, this time featuring Clarence who sees Christ as a well meaning scammer of sorts, whom he could learn a thing or two from about marketing.

The film is certainly helped by some strong performances, from Stanfield and his crew, but it also benefits from having both Alfre Woodard and Marianne Jean-Baptiste, as well as some fun supporting roles for James McAvoy, David Oyelowo and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Some may well be aggrieved by the excellent, mainly black cast, playing characters that have predominantly been played by white actors over the years, but they are likely to burn in a hell of their own making, which kind of makes up for it.

It’s by no means the second coming of Christ films, as it is a little on the patchy side, and occasionally struggles to determine whether to play it straight or for laughs, but Samuel’s film does a lot of right, including being surprisingly moving which shows the power of his cast, making it worthy of a lot of praise indeed.

we give this three out of five