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TV movie rises above the crowd

BBC America's 'Second Coming,' about a store clerk turned savior, is unlikely but well-done.

September 20, 2003|Mark Sachs | Times Staff Writer

As audacious premises go, the transformation of a young British bloke from nebbishy video store clerk to the purported son of God is world-class, and that may be reason enough to tune into tonight's thought-provoking BBC America miniseries "The Second Coming."

Written by Russell T. Davies ("Queer as Folk") and directed by Adrian Shergold ("Inspector Morse"), the ambitious production runs nearly three hours, broken into two back-to-back segments beginning at 5 p.m. and repeating at 8.

The movie is making its American television debut tonight, but it's already aired in Britain, where it tended to polarize audiences into those who saw it as an intriguing philosophical exercise and others who considered it a blasphemous assault on organized religion. Either way, producer Ann Harrison-Baxter has delivered a handsomely mounted effort that looks and feels more like a theatrical release than a corner-cutting TV project.

Christopher Eccleston ("The Others") is excellent as Steven Baxter, whose night out at a Manchester pub with platonic pal Judith (a standout Lesley Sharp of "The Full Monty") ends with a cosmic jolt. While morosely milling about alone outside the club, Steve looks into the darkened skies and is suddenly zapped into some other realm.

When he's discovered by a motorist 40 days later in northern England, Steve is claiming to be the son of God, and he sets out to convince a skeptical world of his newfound status.

A miracle or two later, people are starting to come around, but they're also getting a bit frightened about what it all means. Steve's spouting off about Armageddon, about Judgment Day, about a Third Testament, and before long there are riots in the streets and some devilish-looking characters circling the periphery.

The movie threatens to lose its narrative thrust amid the chaos early in the second half, but the surprising denouement makes it worth hanging around.

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