Saturday, May 13, is the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of Our Lady of Fatima to three shepherd children in Portugal in 1917. When you’re not watching coverage of the papal visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima on EWTN, you can slip in a few movies.
[It] is an old-fashioned production in the Golden Age tradition of religious fare like The Song of Bernadette. It’s not as good a movie as The Song of Bernadette (the best of Hollywood’s Golden Age piety, in my opinion), but it’s well made, entertaining, and fairly faithful to the main facts (despite liberties such as Gilbert Roland’s fictional rascal with a heart of gold, added to help mediate the story for mainstream audiences).
“The 13th Day” (2009; available via DVD from Amazon Prime): The editorial review at Amazon describes this British production thus:
In a world torn apart by persecution, war and oppression, 3 children in Fatima, Portugal were chosen by God to offer an urgent message of hope to the world. Based on the memoirs of the oldest seer, Lucia Santos, and many thousands of independent eye-witness accounts, The 13th Day dramatizes the true story of three young shepherds who experienced six apparitions of Our Lady between May and October 1917, which culminated in the final prophesied Miracle of the Sun on October 13th. Abducted from their homes, thrown into prison and interrogated under the threat of death in the government’s attempt to silence them, the children remained true to their story about the crucial messages from Mary of prayer, repentance and conversion for the world.
Our Lady gave a secret to the children told in three parts, from a harrowing vision of hell, to prophetic warnings of future events including the advent and timing of the Second World War, the spread of communism, and the attempted assassination of the Pope.
Stylistically beautiful and technically innovative, the film uses state-of-the-art digital effects to create stunning images of the visions and the final miracle that have never before been fully realized on screen. Shot on location in Portugal and in the UK, the film has a cast of hundreds to re-create the scenes of the 70,000 strong crowds, with 3 young Portuguese actors playing the iconic roles of the Seers.
Witness the greatest miracle of the 20th Century, and experience the incredible, emotionally-charged and harrowing world of three young children whose choice to remain loyal to their beliefs, even in the face of death, would inspire thousands.
Filmed in High Definition with Dolby Surround Sound. Stars Jane Lesley, Michael D’Cruze, Filipa Fernandes and Tarek Merlin.
“Finding Fatima” (2010; available via DVD from Amazon Prime): If your tastes run more to documentary, here’s one from the same filmmakers who produced “The 13th Day.” It combines archival footage, dramatic reenactments, interviews with experts and visual effects to tell the whole story of the the apparitions, which began with an angel and continued on the 13th of each month between May and Oct. 1917 (when the Miracle of the Sun is reported to have happened in front of scores of onlookers).
“The Song of Bernadette” (1943; available to stream via Amazon Prime): Of course, Fatima isn’t the only place Our Lady is reported to have appeared. This Hollywood classic stars Jennifer Jones as peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous, who reported 18 visions of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France, between February and July 1858. Having been based on a novel about the events, it’s not perfectly historically accurate, but it is moving and won four Academy Awards, including best actress for Jones.
One pope associated strongly with Fatima is John Paul II, and for good reason. On May 13, 1981, the 64th anniversary of Fatima, Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca fired on the pope at point-blank range at the Vatican.
From a 2016 story at Crux:
Yet the two bullets Agca fired at the pope somehow went wide of their targets, one grazing off John Paul’s elbow and the other penetrating his abdomen but narrowly missing a major artery.
To John Paul II, it was no mystery at all why he survived: the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima.
On the anniversary of the assassination attempt, John Paul II traveled to the shrine of Fatima in Portugal to give thanks to Mary for saving his life, placing the bullet doctors had removed from his body in the crown of the Virgin’s statue, where it remains to this day.
There have been a few films about JPII, but one of the best is a 2005 CBS miniseries, called, unsurprisingly, “John Paul II.” Available on DVD from Amazon Prime, it stars Cary Elwes as the young Karol Wojtyla, and Jon Voight as the elder Wojtyla, when he was Pope John Paul II.
Reverent, respectful, well acted and well-paced, Pope John Paul II does about as good a job at covering both halves of its subject’s life as could be hoped for in a TV movie. The miniseries neatly splits its two nights between the pre-election Karol Wojtyla and the reign of Pope John Paul II, with Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) playing Wojtyla from his youth to the 1978 conclave and Jon Voight (Holes) playing John Paul II from the conclave to his 2005 death.
Both actors do a remarkably good job at evoking the speech, style and physical presence of this most media-exposed of popes. Elwes particularly excels at projecting Wojtyla’s formidable intellect and passion, and Voight is especially good at realizing the Holy Father’s pastoral spirit and iron resolve. Both actors effectively tackle the physicality of the role, Elwes energetic and athletic as the younger Wojtyla and Voight giving an impressively controlled performance from the vigor of the early years of the papacy through the slow decline to that painful final public appearance when all the pope’s immense willpower could not coax speech from his throat.
Have a Blessed Feast of Our Lady of Fatima!
Images: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro /
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