While several biblical characters appear in the latest offering from English director Jeymes Samuel, brother of Seal and musician known as The Bullitts, don’t look for Clarence in the New Testament. Born in the head of Samuel, Clarence (LaKeith Stanfield) is a young man living in Jerusalem who will witness the miracles of Jesus (Nicholas Pinnock) and will experience, sometimes reluctantly, events similar to those of Christ. And we’re not just talking about his meeting on the banks of the Jordan with John the Baptist (David Oyelowo).
Having destroyed the tank of band leader Jedediah (Eric Kofi Abrena) during a race with his best friend Elijah (RJ Cyler) against Mary Magdalene (Teyana Taylor), Clarence finds himself in debt. His twin brother Thomas (Stanfield) prevents him from becoming the 13th Apostle, so he becomes friends with Barabbas (Omar Sy). Hoping to make a buck, Clarence will play the fake miracle worker with the complicity of Elijah and Barabbas.
After two afro-westerns, They Die by Down and The Harder They Fall, Jeymes Samuel revisits the biblical peplum through the prism of black culture. With credits in the vein of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956), a breathtaking opening scene reminiscent of William Wyler’s Ben-Hur (1959), and long shots worthy of Jesus of Nazareth (1977). ), by Franco Zeffirelli, The Book of Clarence is much more than a successful pastiche.
An improbable cross between The Life of Brian (1979), by Terry Jones, and Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), by Norman Jewison, The Book of Clarence is not, strictly speaking, a musical. Music and dance play such an important role, and the songs illustrate what the characters are going through so well, that at any moment we expect the actors to sing. However, beyond its festive airs, The Book of Clarence conveys a relevant reflection on racism, which never falls into heaviness or preachiness.
Dominating with conquering ease a cast of contagious enthusiasm, the charismatic and talented LaKeith Stanfield proves as solid in the most comical scenes as in the most moving moments. Among the few whites on duty, we mention James McAvoy as Pontius Pilate and Benedict Cumberbatch, hilarious as a second-hand prophet.