The producer Nigel Stafford-Clark answers your questions

After Episode 2 of the drama, we invited viewers to submit questions to the producer Nigel Stafford-Clark and writer Frank Deasy. Here are the selected questions with the responses from Nigel and Frank.

Nigel Stafford-Clark

Why don't we see Jesus doing any miracles in The Passion?

Paul Hunter, London

The Passion deals only with the days from Jesus's entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday until his death on the Cross and the events that follow. The Gospel on which we primarily based our account of the time leading up to his arrest was Mark, the first to be written and regarded by many as the most authoritative.

The only specifically miraculous act reported by Mark that Jesus performs during the period we are covering is that of the withered fig tree. We did consider including it, but it seemed less central to the story than Jesus's teaching in the Temple, which we wanted to cover in detail, and with only a certain amount of time choices had to be made.

We do have Judas refer to Jesus's miracles in his first audience with Caiaphas at the start of Episode 2. But most importantly, there are the events which take place after the crucifixion.

I don't want to spoil it for you by giving away how the final episode unfolds. Suffice it to say that we present a simple but accurate version of what is described in the Gospels, and it is up to each member of the audience to interpret it in their own way.

Why did the actors keep their regional accents? I've had difficulties believing in certain characters, i.e. a Northern Irish Pilate and a scouse Barabbas!

Nick Thorne, Kent

We thought long and hard about the issue of accents. We could, for instance, have asked all the actors to work in what's called RP (Received Pronunciation) - what you might expect if you watched a traditional performance of Shakespeare at the RSC.

However, one of the most important aims for us was to make the story seem as real and as immediate as possible. And when you go out on to the streets in your everyday life you are not surrounded by people speaking RP. So to use it would be to insert a sense of distance, a historicism you might say, that would run counter to what we were trying to achieve.

We therefore decided to be "accent blind" - to allow the actors to speak in their natural voices, just as they would have done at the time.

Palestine in 33 AD would have been rife with regional accents, even with different languages. We were very happy with the results for us it helped to make characters like the Disciples and Barabbas feel more like real people and less like figures from history. And James Nesbitt's hard Northern Irish accent felt like the voice of an outsider, underlining his role as head of a Roman occupying force.

I'm very sorry if the accents, for you, had the effect of making it harder to be drawn into the story - that's the opposite of what we intended. These choices are always difficult, and we don't always get it right. But they have to be made, and that's what we're there to do - whether successfully or otherwise.

As an animal lover I am concerned that the animals were treated well and not killed for the sake of TV. I noticed a lamb which Judas brought in Episode 2 being manhandled when one of the actors took it from him.

Pauline Lewis, Southampton

As an animal lover myself, I'm happy to assure you that all the live animals throughout the programme were treated with great care and consideration, and that no animals were killed for the sake of the filming.

The sheep were looked after by a group of skilled shepherds, and were given regular breaks for food and water. Like the actors, they had their own rest facilities, and were often used in rotation if the shooting period was lengthy or the sun was particularly hot. The same principles of care were applied to all the other animals involved, from dogs to camels to doves.

In order to avoid any possibility that animals would be killed for the programme, we had a policy from the start that our suppliers would attend the local abattoir which supplied the town of Ouarzazate, where we were filming, and purchase only animals which had already been prepared for the butchers that day.

The actor who takes the lamb from Judas was briefed beforehand by one of the shepherds as to the way to perform the action without any harm or distress being caused (so much so that we had to add a bleat to the soundtrack, as the lamb itself was so unmoved it didn't make one of its own accord).

Is this central story of the Christian religion superior as drama to any of the stories from other major religions?

Charlotte, Bath

I'm not sufficient of an expert on comparative religion to make a judgement on this story in relation to those of other great faiths. What I would say, however, is that this is a story that carries immense power, whatever your beliefs.

And taken purely as a story, it contains almost every element that you could possibly ask for as either storyteller or audience. A ticking clock, stakes that rise for everyone involved with every day that passes, tension that becomes almost unbearable, a shattering climax, and then, after that climax, the most extraordinary part of the whole narrative.

Is there any particular reason why, in the interests of historical accuracy, you haven't shown Jesus, the disciples and Jews in general wearing tzitzit and tephillim?

Nick Thompson, Doncaster

The Costume and Art Departments did a huge amount of research on all aspects of costume and design for the production, using a variety of authoritative sources from Alfred Rubens to the Temple Institute - Caiaphas's formal robes and headplate or Tzitz being a case in point.

We decided, in the case of Jesus and the Disciples, that their peripatetic lifestyle (that of an itinerant preacher and his followers) for the past three years would have had a significant impact on their mode of dress.

We were also aiming throughout for a simplicity in the costumes that would emphasise the reality of everyday life. We have sought to underline that Jesus was Jewish (a point too often ignored in the telling of this story) in a number of other ways (e.g. having him addressed as Rabbi, and the use of the Kaddish as he's carried to the tomb).

What, do you think, are the most important elements of this story that can be appreciated by agnostics and atheists?

Charlotte, Bath

Whatever your level of belief or scepticism, this remains a story of enormous power, and one that compels you to look beyond yourself and your own everyday concerns.

In a very moving interview as he was dying, the writer Dennis Potter recast the famous quotation from Oscar Wilde, saying that in life we all have the choice either to look up towards the stars or down at the gutter. This is a story that makes you look up, and that can only be a good thing.

On another level, it is a story about unconditional love, about making the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of others, about hope rising from despair - themes that have an equal relevance to all of us.

And on yet another level, we have sought to convey the startling simplicity and clarity of the teaching that Jesus did in the streets of Jerusalem and the Temple during that last week. The lessons it contains about how to conduct your life in relation to those around you are ones from which we could all benefit in our everyday lives.

Why did you choose Joseph Mawle to play that part of Jesus? I have to say that he is so convincing I couldn't think of anyone better.

Carol, Kettering

Clearly, in this story, who you cast as Jesus is the most important single casting decision that you take. Whoever it is has to be able to hold the centre of the stage and command the audience's attention, and on this occasion we wanted to achieve that without recourse to techniques used in previous film versions (ice blue eyes; an unblinking gaze).

Normally the process of finding the right actor would take a long time, with endless contenders being brought in to audition. You would get on with the casting of Pilate, Mary, Caiaphas and the other sixty-odd parts, whilst all the time a dark cloud hovered in the background: "Yes that's all very well, but who's going to play Jesus?"

In this case, when the director Michael Offer and I first sat down with our casting director, Kate Rhodes James (who I had worked with on Bleak House and several previous shows), Kate asked us if we had seen a BBC film called Soundproof, which featured an actor called Joseph Mawle playing the part of a young deaf man falsely accused of murder. We had, and Joe had made a deep impression on all of us. There was a quality about him, a frankness and a simplicity married to an intensity and a depth of feeling, that gave him an unusual presence.

We brought him in to audition: he was the first actor we saw for any of the parts. His audition decided it. He was the ideal casting for the role. We discussed it with the BBC. The process was made easier by the fact that our BBC executive producer, Hilary Salmon, had performed the same role on Soundproof and thoroughly supported the choice of Joe.

So we went through the entire three month casting process able to answer with complete certainty the first question of every actor who came in for every other part.

Where was the film shot and how long did the film take to make?

Mr Bev Reid, Carlisle

I started to develop the idea and do the preliminary research in spring 2006. Frank Deasy began to write the scripts late that summer. By spring 2007 we had all three hours and while Frank continued to polish them I began to look for the locations.

We looked at several alternatives, including the region of south eastern Turkey down towards the Iraq border, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, but we eventually settled on Morocco. There has been a tradition of foreign film-making there since David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. More recently, director Ridley Scott shot Kingdom of Heaven and part of Gladiator at the film studios in Ouarzazate, a small town in the southern foothills of the Atlas Mountains, a few hours drive from Marrakech and an hour's flight from Casablanca.

Director Michael Offer and Production Designer Simon Elliott did extensive location searches and found a small town several hours further south, towards the Sahara, called Tamnougalt. With its baked dirt houses and narrow streets it had remained virtually untouched for centuries. It would be perfect for the crowded streets of Jerusalem, whilst in the studios at Ouarzazate Simon would create the Temple and the world of the Romans using bits of sets from previous films and a vast team of Moroccan construction workers. The preparations took from the end of May to late August 2007.

We filmed from 27th August to 23rd October, mainly in the studio and on locations around Ouazarzate, with the last few weeks at Tamnougalt. We worked through temperatures that soared into the mid 40's and through epic rainstorms that washed us out of the Garden of Gethsemane and off Golgotha. We worked through Ramadan, when for a month the Moroccan crew were unable to eat or drink anything, including water, from sunrise to sunset.

We returned to London at the end of October 2007, and since then have been in post-production. We delivered the final episode to the BBC on Tuesday 11th March, just five days before the show began its transmission on BBC1.

What does the Hebrew writing on the High Priest's headdress say?

Gail Young, Hitchin

It says "Holy to God" or "Holiness unto the Lord" depending on the translation you read. This was researched by the Art and Costume departments using a range of authoritative sources from the Jewish historical costume expert Alfred Rubens to the Temple Institute in Israel. If you do an internet search for the latter's website, you can see a version of the original that they have created.

Frank Deasy

What was your research for the programme based on? (apart from the Bible of course!)

Angus Johnson, Cheltenham

A trip to Palestine and Israel to visit the major sites of Jesus's Passion and his life and ministry, many many books, among them the works of Geza Vermes, E.P. Sanders, Anne Wroe's book on Pilate, Karen Armstrong's History of Jerusalem, Joan Comay's The Temple of Jerusalem, Gospel commentaries, articles and an ongoing dialogue with Mark Goodacre, our invaluable Bibilical consultant.

I was wondering what your thoughts are on the theory that Judas is in fact not to be blamed in giving up Jesus. More in fact that he was closer to the 'plot' than we have believed.

Simon, Isle of Man

Judas is to me a fascinating and very sympathetic character, beautifully played by Paul Nicholls. What I tried to highlight in dramatising Judas and Jesus's relationship was the paradox of a set of preordained events running alongside the existence of free will, and also to express what seems to me Jesus's depthless capacity for compassion.

Why, when Jesus was telling the man in the first episode "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's and Give unto God what is God's", did you see fit to show Jesus doing a magic trick and make the coin disappear? This suggests Jesus was a magician, which of course he was not.

Ian Jeffreys, Needham Market, Suffolk

I think you're taking the scene a little too seriously - after all it's a pretty ordinary 'trick' - much as a father might do for his children. The intention of the scene was to show Jesus as having a sense of humour rather than appearing as a magician.

Has researching and then writing this drama changed the way you view Jesus?

Sophie Wynne Evans, Dublin

Undoubtedly yes. He comes across to me as much more demanding than I understood or expected. His Passion is also more human than I had understood as a child and as a result, in a strange way I suppose, seems to me more a greater source of spiritual strength.

On which version of the Bible did you base the script?

Colin Mason, Farnborough

Several, but I particularly like the Knox translation from the Vulgate, the Good News Bible, J.B. Philips' Living Gospels of Jesus Christ and also the Complete Jewish Bible translated by David H. Stern - which I found very helpful when struggling with the dialogue.

How difficult was it to write this emotive/sensitive piece, balancing your own views (whatever they may be) with a story that is obviously well known and extremely sensitive for Christians?

Scott Parker, London

Not as difficult as you might imagine. We made a series of decisions early on as a team - basically that we were not attempting to appropriate the story for some modern agenda, that we were in the business of dramatising questions rather than promoting answers and that we were making a piece of drama, not a theological treatise.

How personal is the motivation behind your writing about the last week of Jesus' life and are there actual teachings which inspired you to write?

David Fisher, Wrexham

Virtually everything I write has a strong personal motivation. I received a great deal of inspiration along the way from individuals, one friend in particular, and from books. However the most inspiring experience I had was visiting Palestine and Israel. Seeing Golgotha, Gethsemane, the Sea of Galilee and so on has been described as a 'fifth gospel' and that was certainly my experience.

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