Joan of Arc

BOB ABERNETHY: Last week, we reported on the revival of cultural interest in Joan of Arc, the 15th-century French peasant girl who became a French national hero and a Roman Catholic saint. One piece of the new interest is a CBS television miniseries, “Joan of Arc,” which begins May 16. Our critic, Martha Bayles, took a look.

MARTHA BAYLES: Joan of Arc has been a legend for 600 years, a French peasant girl who heard saintly voices telling her to dress like a soldier, lead men into battle, and help to crown a king. She was tried for heresy and burned at the stake in 1431.

CBS Joan of Arc

(Excerpt from movie “Joan of Arc”)

BAYLES: A lot of work and talent went into “Joan of Arc.” Yet for all its fine qualities, there’s something unresolved about the production.

(Excerpt from movie “Joan of Arc”)

BAYLES: Some scenes filmed in the Czech Republic will remind viewers of Kosovo. And indeed, the Hundred Years War between France and England was, like today’s Balkan conflict, tangled and bitter. The challenge for the storyteller is to find the right threat to untangle history and turn it into drama.

Joan of Arc has been depicted as a mystic, a martyr, a patriot, a political prisoner, a would-be Protestant, and a proto-feminist.

(Excerpt from vintage production of story of Joan of Arc)

BAYLES: Many threads to choose from. The trouble with this film is that it pulls on all of them without developing any. Plus, it adds new topics from today’s headlines, such as women in combat.

(Excerpt from movie “Joan of Arc”)

BAYLES: Another headline topic is the use of military force for humanitarian purposes.

Joan of Arc Neil Patrick Harris

(Excerpt from movie “Joan of Arc”)

BAYLES: Then there’s family values: Joan of Arc as a rebellious teenager seeking Dad’s approval.

(Excerpt from movie “Joan of Arc”)

BAYLES: And don’t forget self-esteem.

(Excerpt from movie “Joan of Arc”)

BAYLES: Some of these themes, like women in combat, fit nicely with Joan of Arc. Others, like self-esteem, do not. A better script would have focused on just one or two and developed them into a powerful human drama. Instead, this Joan of Arc tries to be all things to all viewers, and that creates a whole new kind of tangle.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Martha Bayles.