God on Trial

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God on Trial
Directed byAndy De Emmony
Written byFrank Cottrell-Boyce
Produced byMark Redhead
Jemma Rodgers
Anne Mensah
StarringAntony Sher
Rupert Graves
Jack Shepherd
Dominic Cooper
Eddie Marsan
Stellan Skarsgård
Music byNick Green
Tristin Norwell
Distributed byHat Trick Productions
Release date
Running time
90 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom

God on Trial is a 2008 British television play written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, starring Antony Sher, Rupert Graves and Jack Shepherd. The play takes place in Auschwitz during World War II. The Jewish prisoners put God on trial in absentia for abandoning the Jewish people. The question is whether God has broken his covenant with the Jewish people by allowing the Germans to commit genocide on them.[1] It was produced and shown by the BBC on 3 September 2008. Production was supported by PBS, which screened the play as part of its Masterpiece anthology.

The play is based on the Elie Wiesel play The Trial of God. Cottrell-Boyce describes this tale as "apocryphal".[2] Wiesel later stated that the event was true, and that he had witnessed it.[3] According to Cottrell-Boyce, producer Mark Redhead "had been trying to turn the story into a film for almost 20 years by the time he called me in 2005 to write the screenplay."[2]


Jewish prisoners in a barrack at Auschwitz question why God has let this happen to them, His chosen people, and decide to try God in absentia to get at the answer. This becomes an extended debate on why God permits evil. The first theory proposed, that God must allow people to choose actions that lead to horrible results because human freedom of will is such an important value—a solution many consider the true one—is rejected with contempt, and the debate continues. Finally, one of the men, a rabbi, reviews the record of God's deeds against Israel’s enemies in the Hebrew Bible, and draws the conclusion that God is not good, and that he has simply been on their side throughout history. He recounts that he had seen the phrase “God is with us” engraved on the belts of the German guards, concluding that God has now turned against the Jews once and for all. The account is so powerful that the others accept it, and there is a moment of silence. "So what do we do?" says one. "We pray," says the proposer of the theory grimly, and they rise, face one way and begin to pray. The scene fades to the present day, with visitors to Auschwitz standing stunned in the same space; the ghostly figures of the prisoners are seen among them, praying.



The music for the film was especially commissioned and composed by Nick Green and Tristin Norwell.


Reviews were overwhelmingly positive. Sam Wollaston in The Guardian found it "powerful and thoughtful stuff, with some fine performances by some fine actors – Antony Sher, Rupert Graves, Dominic Cooper."[4] Remarking that Cottrell-Boyce wrote the piece from a position of personal faith, James Walton in The Telegraph observed, "Yet, as each of the characters put forward a different view on the question of God and suffering, it was clear that he was willing to interrogate his beliefs with real ferocity." This was a complex piece, and "as the fierceness of the intellectual and emotional grip tightened, it was impossible to imagine any halfway-thoughtful viewers, of whatever prior convictions, not having a disturbing sense of their own ideas coming under sustained and convincing attack."[5] In a long review for The Times, Tim Teeman had great praise for the cast: "The performances were so strong it felt a privilege to watch the actors, among them Antony Sher, Rupert Graves, Stephen Dillane and Jack Shepherd." He also praises director Andy de Emmony's "brilliant, arresting sleight of hand... [mixing] the prisoners, naked and shorn, together with the present-day touring party in the gas chamber."[6] For The Independent, Thomas Sutcliffe remarked on Sher's role as the play's smouldering fuse: "Every now and then you saw Antony Sher, davening silently in a corner of the barracks. Like a loaded gun in a Chekhov play, you knew he was going to go off eventually and that it would be significant when he did, and indeed it was his explosive inventory of God's biblically attested crimes that finally swung the judges in favour of a guilty verdict."[7]

Opposite fierce competition from the much-trailed, eagerly awaited debut episode of ITV's four-part-time travel fantasy series, Lost in Austen, and an episode of the BBC's celebrity genealogy show, Who Do You Think You Are?, featuring Esther Rantzen, God on Trial attracted 700,000 viewers on BBC2, a 3% share of the audience, according to overnight returns.[8]

When the show was shown in the United States on PBS, the Los Angeles Times said "They are big topics addressed with a striking lack of sentimentality, quite a feat considering the setting."[9] The San Francisco Chronicle echoed the British reviewers in praising the "brilliant script" the "subtle wonders at every turn" in DeEmmony's direction, and remarked that "It seems trivial even to try to single out one superb performance from virtually every other superb performance."[10]


God on Trial aired on BBC2 on Wednesday 3 September 2008[2] and on PBS in the Masterpiece Contemporary strand on 9 November 2008.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pettie, Andrew (30 August 2008). "God on Trial". Telegraph. Retrieved 4 September 2008.[dead link]
  2. ^ a b c Cottrell-Boyce, F. C. (19 August 2008). "Losing my religion". Guardian. Retrieved 4 September 2008.
  3. ^ "Wiesel: Yes, we really did put God on trial". www.thejc.com. Archived from the original on 21 May 2010. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
  4. ^ Last night's TV by Sam Wollaston, The Guardian, 4 September 2008
  5. ^ Last night on television: Lost in Austen (ITV1) by James Walton, The Telegraph, 4 September 2008
  6. ^ God on Trial; Lost in Austen by Tim Teeman, The Times, 4 September 2008
  7. ^ Last Night's TV: Lost In Austen, ITV1 God On Trial, BBC2, Thomas Sutcliffe, The Independent, 4 September 2008
  8. ^ "TV ratings: Family history show defeats Austen drama", The Guardian, 4 September 2008
  9. ^ Review: 'God on Trial' on PBS stations, 7 November 2008, Los Angeles Times, Mary McNamara
  10. ^ TV review: Auschwitz prisoners put God on trial, San Francisco Chronicle, 8 November 2008
  11. ^ God on Trial, pbs.org

External links[edit]