Methodist Church

Feature film tells story of John Wesley

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NASHVILLE (Tennessee) – A perilous adventure on the high seas, a star-crossed love affair, mob violence, rioting, attempted assassination – not the elements one might expect in a film about the founder of Methodism.

The director and producer of “Wesley” believes, however, that the dramatic and often surprising story of John Wesley will attract moviegoers of all faiths, as well as warm their hearts.

“I am hoping that we are going to hit a crossover audience, that this is not just going to be of interest to Methodists,” said John Jackman, whose films include “Passing Moment”, “Windsor Knot” and “An Uncommon Union”.

The feature film traces the life of Wesley as an outwardly religious young man who undergoes a spiritual renewal that leads to a revolutionary ministry. It was scheduled for release towards the end of last year.

“It has all the elements that you would want to put into a movie,” said Jackman, who spent more than a thousand hours researching Wesley’s life. The script is based largely on the journals of both John Wesley and his brother, Charles.

According to Jackman, the film is not a stuffy, intellectual discourse on Wesleyan theology, and it does not emphasise details that distinguish Methodism from other Christian movements.

“We have really had to focus on the core spiritual journey of Wesley,”

Jackman said. “Some of the stuff that would be very sectarian also, of course, is not going to appeal to a modern audience – and probably would not even appeal to modern Methodists.”

Burgess Jenkins, who plays Wesley, applauds the film for its openness and reach.
“I think the end result is something that is so far-reaching in so many ways – that if you are not Christian, you are not going to be turned off by it – and if you are Christian, you are going to get something very profound from it,” said Jenkins, whose film credits include “The Reaping” and “Remember the Titans”. The film explores the vulnerable, human side of Methodism’s founder, beginning with a spiritually conflicted yet pious Wesley as an Anglican priest teaching at Oxford University in 1732.

As a method actor, Jenkins approached the role by trying, as much as possible, to become the character.

“A lot of it came from reading Wesley’s journals,” he said. “Once I had a good idea of who John Wesley was – and what it was that motivated him – I started living, as best I knew how, as John.

“It was probably the most profound experience I have had as an actor in embodying another character – not just John’s accent or his gait or his posture, but his ideology.”

Charles, John’s brother, is played by Keith Harris (“Big Fish”, “Junebug”, Chicks101”).

Television and film actress June Lockhart joins the cast as Susannah Wesley, John’s mother, who played a pivotal role in his early spiritual growth. Lockhart was for an entire generation the quintessential “TV mom” from her roles in the series “Lassie” and “Lost in Space” Jackman sees a need for Wesley’s story in today’s world. “The pulling together of spiritual life and social action and social ministry to the poor is something that I see as very timely right now, as we get into a society where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” he said. – United Methodist News Service.

Jennifer Lind is an intern for United Methodist Communications and a senior religious studies major at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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