The Ark

The BBC offers a fresh take on a well known tale.
The story of Noah’s Ark is so familiar and often told that you wonder whether there is anything new that can be brought to it. Last year’s Russell Crowe fronted film Noah somehow managed to miss out God altogether and turn the title character into a heartless madman. Thankfully Eastenders scribe Tony Jordan takes the opposite approach, ingraining faith and God as the cornerstone of the story and his Noah is the opposite of mad. Instead he is a family man of remarkable understanding, raising four sons and inspiring utter devotion from his wife. When he embarks on his boat building work it is this faith that is challenged and this lies at the heart of what is a family based drama with just a bit of epic for ballast.
"Doesn't look like the ferry's coming, fancy building our own?"

The drama isn’t perfect and some may find it dull at least until the Angel appears and informs Noah of his mission. Till then we have the hard working but happy routine of family life on a farm where it hasn’t rained for years and he, his wife, their sons and wives toil on the semi desert that passes for land. This existence seems to hark back to the pre war years and the Northern accents accentuate that. Except for occasional trips for provisions Noah keeps his family away from the nearby city which he says is decadent and selfish. It is a weakness of the production that the revels we see in the town are hardly bacchanalian amounting to a bit of dancing and smoking something strong; surely even God would want people to have a bit of fun?
There could be a time when Noah lived there because he has a close friend Paul (Don Warrington) but this angle is never really mentioned. However the two of them engage in lively philosophical debate about the nature of God and how life could be lived. These discussions provide some intelligent ballast to the production. Noah believes that God has a purpose so when he is told about the flood he immediately agrees. Unlike the aforementioned film Jordan’s Noah is seen as reasonable, he will only debate his point and if others don’t comply he will simply get on with it himself as he does when he starts constructing the Ark entirely on his own. At this point you realise Jordan might have gone too far the other way, to the point where the Angel says Noah can invite anyone he likes onto the Ark. This rather recalibrates the argument to being about good people surviving instead of bad ones perishing and is a leniency which the Old Testament certainly did not offer.
David Threlfall is well suited to the role with long grey matted hair and beard he looks exhausted before he even hammers a nail. His conviction is clear and strong though he stops short of grandstanding. Joanne Whalley is excellent too as his supportive, principled wife Emmille. Despite an introductory scene that sees them exert individuality the sons remain extras in the story save for Kenan the youngest whose growing feelings for Paul’s daughter Sabba (Antonia Thomas). Ashley Walters – known for portraying tough urban characters- is the surprising choice to play the Angel which he does with a beatific nonchalance that is perfect for the part.
Of course the risk with this story is always that whatever human drama happens it will be figuratively and literally swept away by the climactic flood. With only a TV budget The Ark cannot manage the scale of big screen representations but what it does do works very well. Some clever silhouettes are all that are needed to portray the animals and the flood itself is suitably powerful.  Yet in this case it does not overwhelm an interesting spin that the production gives a well -worn story.

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