Krish Kandiah in The Spectator:
It’s Christmas in Paris and Les Champs-Elysees is appropriately adorned. We are, after all, in the so-called Elysian Fields, paradise, heaven on earth. Red illuminated trees line both side of France’s most famous avenue, stars fill the sky and the red carpet is laid out in front of the prestigious Gaumont cinema. The welcome is fit for royalty. And, on cue, Jesus turns up.
Paris may be a far cry from Bethlehem two thousand years ago, but tonight sees a different long-awaited arrival: the French language national television release of the hit series The Chosen and a premiere with the man who plays Jesus –Jonathan Roumie. This is probably the most successful television show you have never heard of. Over 150 million people have streamed this dramatisation of the life of Jesus, told through the eyes of the disciples. It is the biggest crowd-funded television series in history with fans raising $40 million to cover the production costs of the first two seasons, and a third season is already in credit. Jonathan Roumie has already started to collect awards, as has the director Dallas Jenkins.
Tonight in Paris it’s a game changer. ‘The Chosen’ will air on Canal Plus’s national free to air channel C8 at prime-time over the festive period. As I interview those on the red carpet at the premier screening, everyone I speak to is astounded that Europe’s most secularised nation (40 per cent say that they don’t follow any religion) has agreed to dedicate these highly sought-after television slots to a detailed retelling of the biblical story of Jesus. How has this religious coup-de-grace been made possible? It seems that the controversial billionaire owner of Canal Plus, Vincent Bollore, may have something to do with it. Rumour has it that he has been personally impacted by the story behind the film.
He’s not the only one. Around the world some 2.5 billion people claim to follow Jesus. That’s some pressure on any actor that dares to play him, let alone on the man who stars in the most-watched depiction of his life in the world right now. How does Jonathan Roumie deal with that pressure? He tells me in his humble and self effacing way: ‘I pray a lot.’ Roumie explains that he is ‘excited’ about the national release because it is going to allow French people ‘to have it available in their own language. I almost prefer the voice of Jesus in French to my own voice.’