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  • Writer's pictureRevShirleyMurphy

The Movie “The Robe” a Classical Biblical Epic

"The Robe" (1953), Starring Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, and Victor Mature, this Hollywood Cinemascope spectacle is the story of an Ancient Roman soldier, who turns to Christianity when embracing the robe of Jesus Christ.

The Robe is a Biblical epic focusing on the Roman tribune put in charge of carrying out the crucifixion of Jesus. The movie opens with a slave auction in Rome where Marcellus (played by Richard Burton) angers Caligula, the heir to Emperor Tiberius. Marcellus is separated from his true love Diana and sent to the most unpopular outpost in the empire, Jerusalem. Marcellus arrives just as Jesus enters Jerusalem for the Last Supper. Diana gets Tiberius to recall Marcellus, but his final task in Jerusalem is to lead the crucifixion of Jesus. While carrying out his assignment, he winds up winning the robe that was taken from Jesus when he was put on the cross. Later, Marcellus, who’s wracked by guilt for his part in the crucifixion, is assigned to track down track down Christians conspiring against the empire. When he finds some Christians and learns what they are really teaching, however, he becomes one.

This powerful story is similar to that of Paul who at first sought to persecute Christians but then became one. The movie has many inspiring moments. It is a wonderful testament to the power of Christian faith.

The Robe takes full advantage of the technology in creating a lavish and extravagant vision. Regarded as among the finest Biblical epics ever made, it is based on the best-selling novel by Lloyd C. Douglas. Richard Burton plays Marcellus, a Roman centurion assigned by Pontius Pilate to supervise the crucifixion of Jesus. Drunk and callous, Marcellus plays dice at the foot of the cross and wins Jesus' own handmade robe. Back in Rome, Marcellus is tormented by nightmares and horrifying visions emanating from the mystical holy garment. Hoping to assuage his guilt, he returns to Palestine in search of answers about the life of Christ. In his journey he transforms from a profane cynic to a godly true believer.

This film, like Ben-Hur, never shows Christ’s face. Instead, we are made to focus more intently on the expressions of those who see Him, such as Demetrius as he watches the Palm Sunday procession to Jerusalem pass by. The Passion is portrayed in a haunting yet non-graphic way, again focusing more on the reactions of the people participating in the event without wallowing in visual blood and gore. I found it interesting how Pontius Pilate is shown repeatedly asking for water to wash his hands, as if he realizes he will never be able to cleanse himself of his crime. Also, Marcellus is shown compulsively rubbing his hand after Christ’s blood splattered on it.

Another aspect of the film I find appealing is the way Marcellus doesn’t “lose himself” when he converts. He remains a loyal Roman and a fighting man.

To me, The Robe and its message transcend time, and each year at Eastertide it gives fresh inspiration to better myself and carry my cross more faithfully. Marcellus’s long spiritual journey is one that should be related to by everyone, since we are all in part responsible for the crucifixion of Christ and in need of His saving power. Although the Roman tribune starts out as a cocky young man used to a gourmet lifestyle, his travels shatter his protective bubble and expose him to a world of cruelty and injustice.

This causes him to seek out the ultimate treasure, even though half the time he doesn’t know what he is searching for. It takes the humility and faithfulness of those he encounters to help him find his way. Like them, it is our mission as Christ-followers to bear true witness for Our Saviour in word and deed, realizing that each act we perform with love can make all the difference to someone searching for the truth.


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